Although I'm mad-keen about wildlife-friendly gardening, I also have an unbridled passion for birdsong, which at last found its chance to shine when a compilation-track of my recordings got to number 18 in the pop charts this year in what we called Let Nature Sing. (Two hundred thousand You Tube views and counting, I'll have you know!)
Of course, the two things go together very nicely: the garden wouldn't be the same without the spring symphony to accompany us. And although the full blast from that season is over, there is plenty to keep our ears entertained as we head into autumn.
In particular, one bird that keeps on singing it's heart out is the Robin. Whereas in most songbirds the urge to sing is only expressed when the males get a surge of hormones in spring, Robin song is used right through the winter, by both male and female birds.
The reason is simple, for they remain doggedly territorial when the breeding season is over, a time when most other birds are chilling out and happily mixing with their own kind. It's just that in winter the territory that a Robin defends is to just do with food for itself, not with holding court over a patch of land that must support it, its mate and its chicks.
So, on a still day in particular, listen for the short, sweet, slightly sad and ever-changing verses of Robins which can be heard in gardens across the country.
In my garden, there are three territorial Robins at the moment, which as you'd expect are widely spread out. But I also have the remarkably tame youngster from a late brood who is only just starting to gain his/her red breast and who follows me around everywhere when I'm weeding and harvesting. This is him/her a couple of weeks ago, with just one adult feather showing through the speckle.
He/she doesn't appear to have started to sing yet; instead, the juvenile plumage lets him/her slip under the radar of the adults. But while I he/she doesn't sing, he/she is very fond of using the Robin call, which is like 'tip tip-tip tippi-tippi-tippi' and variants thereof, like a dripping tap onto a hard surface.
There are times when the call becomes particularly insistent, which alerts me to the fact that the Fox is about. Here he is below, letting his curiosity get the better of him when I was cutting my 'meadow' (which, by the way, I do on my hands and knees with a pair of shears - very satisfying).
Talking of Foxes, now that's surely one of the most characteristic sounds of autumn, after dark. Sometimes it is the triple-bark of the male, but it is the spine-chilling wail of the female that can be quite startling, as if some horrific crime is being committed in the shrubbery. In my garden, the barking has begun, and I'd expect the wailing to really kick in by about December.
Another nocturnal sound of the season is the hooting of Tawny Owls, and I expect the frequency of that to pick up in gardens around the country as the nights really draw in. The advertising call of the male starts with a single hoot, followed by a pause of about five whole seconds, before giving a short 'huh' followed by a wavering hu-hu-hu-hooooo.
Should you step outside to listen, there is another sound to keep an ear-out for. From about the second week of October you stand a good chance of hearing the calls of migrating Redwings passing overhead as they arrive from Scandinavia and beyond. Each note is a thin, sibilant 'tseeee', dropping in pitch.
Over on the RSPB website, we have a Chorus Hub, which is our free bonus space for reading and listening to material relating to the amazing world of birdsounds. You can log in here. You'll find more about the sounds of autumn, including some of my recordings of the amazing sounds of wild geese flocks that arrive back on our shores about now.
And if you weren't aware, my new book, the RSPB Guide to Birdsong, came out this spring, in which the book and CD/digital download work hand in hand to help you identify birdsounds, and which I'm relieved to say has been going down very well. If you haven't yet mastered Robin song, this is the place to start.
So down tools for a moment when you're next in the garden, ears at the ready, for there are some wonderful things to be heard.
that's very kind, thanks CalGee. I'm so pleased you are getting so much out of the book and recordings - it has all been a labour of love to pull it together
I highly recommend your Guide to Birdsong. Part 1 is so inspiring and, despite being an experienced birder of some 40 years, I learnt so much about the structure of bird song. Incredibly interesting and very accessible to the expert and novice alike. I have given this book as a persent to several people and they all love it. Well done!
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