Chip chip chipping

Booted Eagle (John Hawkins)
There is a white wine freshness to these early autumn mornings, a clarity surfacing now, more crisply defined dawn wisps of cloud . There are fewer birds in the skyscape and soundscape compared to the spring, but this leaves the stage uncluttered and allows me to soak in solo performances, soliloquies. As I sit with a coffee at the edge of the garden, Woodlark song flows from the blue sky, never failing to move me. Its tranquil, sweet but almost melancholic lapping cadences lull me. Then comes the zany whooping whistles of Spotless Starlings, which give way abruptly to the mellow fluty warbling from a Blackcap in the top of the almond tree above me. I wonder whether this Blackcap is a bird on passage on one that has arrived to spend the winter here. It could be either.

The next performance comes again from the sky. A curious "chip-chip-chip-chip" draws my attention upwards. The sound comes from the direction of the risen sun and it takes a few seconds before the bird responsible has circled into safe view. It is an adult Booted Eagle. It circles low, a magnificent sight, calling continuously. Within my field of vision, a second bird appears and together they wheel. For the last ten days or so, this chipping call has been  a distinctive feature of the morning repertoire of bird sound, as it is at the start of every autumn. I am puzzled by this each year. These Booted Eagles (are they the local nesting pair or birds on passage from further north?) suddenly become a highly visible feature of the garden birding experience, just days now before they head south for their wintering quarters in Africa. Invariably it is a pair of birds, circling together, giving this short, repetitive high-pitched note. It sounds very close to that uttered at the time of pair-bonding and courtship in the it a means by which the pair reaffirm their bond before the more solitary life over winter? So far my search throuigh the literature on the species has failed to describe its role.

Red-rumped Swallow (John Hawkins)
The birds gain height and drift off, whilst Red-rumped Swallows and House Martins, the two most engaging of the hirundines, glide together in a loose pack. More surreptiously a Willow Warbler comes to bathe at the little pool I have recently provided for the birds. Over the last few days I have seen 14 species coming to drink or bathe, including migrating Pied and Spotted Flycatchers and Common Redstarts. Doubtless other species have also popped in the freshen up. The migration at this time of the year seems almost like a silk ribbon passing through one's fingers: it is happening under our very eyes, but by and large in silence, small birds moving in the dappled shadows of the shrubs and trees, a quiet tide drawn southwards across the landscape.

Pied Flycatcher at bird-bath (Martin Kelsey)


Beautiful description of this time of year, Martin! I found it very moving. Kindred spirit. As you say, it’s also quite remarkable that we should both chose exactly the same “chip chip” formula to describe the Booted Eagle’s farewell display-flight call, from among all the possible mnemonic options!!!
Dave Langlois
Thanks very much Dave! So happy that you enjoyed the blog.
Guy Lawrence said…
Beautiful writing. Just discovered your blog as I start doing some research in anticipation of my first visit to the region this forthcoming August. Your work has me wild with anticipation as I sit here in cold, dark South Wales. Dreaming of being there.

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