Country Diary: Up with the larks to hear the dawn chorus – Rights History
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Country Diary: Up with the larks to hear the dawn chorus

Loch Insh, Cairngorms national park: On a guided walk, we collectively try to capture elusive bird language in human tongue

It was International Dawn Chorus Day and we were at Loch Insh by 6am for an RSPB guided walk. The birds in the car park were putting on a good show, and already we hit the challenge of the morning. Our guide would point and say: “That’s a chaffinch!” No sooner had everyone turned their heads and tuned their ears, a pesky band of tits, warblers and robins would pipe up and confuse things. Which one was which? How do you describe birdsong? So walking, we collectively tried to capture elusive bird language in human tongue.

To remember and imitate the songs, the rhythm and emphasis are as important as the pitch. The willow warbler has a pure and silvery tumble of notes, with a bright lift at the end, so we tried “willow-willow-willow-willow WARbler!” The great tit’s rusty-wheel two notes are often captioned “teacher-teacher” but don’t sound a bit like that to me. I scribbled down “du-WIT du-WIT”. But that’s what an owl says, isn’t it? With a “woo” thrown in? Bother. Not as easy as it looks.

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