Lockdown Birding Part 11

Common Nightingale (Martin Kelsey)

Everytime I have been out for my balcony birding session, and pretty much whenever I have stopped to listen, day or night, our Nightingale has been singing. He arrived a few days later than the others which are holding territories to the west and to the south of us. They are within earshot yes, but not bombarding us like this one. We can hear our Nightingale when we are inside the house, with all of the windows closed.

From the balcony I can find him perched in an acacia tree close by, or a mulberry.  He has favourite song perches, which is where I instinctively look for him. He stands still and almost upright, bill agape. He looks confident and accomplished. There is no need for show, his song speaks for itself.

The song of a Nightingale is a meditation, with deliberate pauses between each phrase to focus the attention. It reminds me of classical Persian music, which is hypnotic and often improvised, with short series of notes punctuated by silence. Like the music, the phrases are varied and of great beauty, simple and clear. It is as if, the Nightingale, as the musician, uses the pause to hold us, to capture us. We guess how the next phrase might flow. It may bear fruity, rich mellow notes or they may be piercing and strident. There are fluid chortles, scratchy notes that have been lubricated smooth as if by honey. And sooner or later, the wonderful high descending whistles that hold one in suspense, "making the hairs on the back of one's neck stand on end" as the late John Meikeljohn, a dear friend and inspiring naturalist, once told me.

Corn Bunting (Martin Kelsey)

As reliable as the Nightingale is the Corn Bunting, at least during day time. Whenever I step out onto the balcony I can hear him singing, to my right, across the lane, in the meadow beside us. There he will stand, perched on top of a sheep-browsed stunted bushy holm oak. Sometimes, he flutters off to a bank of brambles, his pink legs hanging limply as he passes over wild flowers. By comparison to the Nightingale, his song is stereotyped and predictable, a short buzzy flourish. But here in Extremadura, the Corn Bunting song is the watermark that labels the open habitat of meadows. Bunting song provides simple, structured but evocative emblems for their respective habitats: Reed Buntings in marshes, Cirl Buntings in scrub-filled valleys, Rock Buntings on cliff faces and the haunting song of Ortolans now starting to fill the open expanse of broom moorland high in the Gredos Mountains.


Meropes said…
Martin - am thoroughly enjoying your lockdown birding blog. Is it possible to post a recording of your nightingale on here? One of my spring birding fixes is to drive 40 minutes from home to listen to nightingales in the Lea Valley, north of London. Something not open to me this spring.
Best wishes
David K said…
I agree-have just caught up with the recent blogs!
Thanks Martin
Coming from up north in the UK we have no nightingales near us (although they are in Lincolnshire). My go to place for them is Cotswold Water Park which is 25min from where my brother in law lives and possibly their most westerly territory -but goodness knows when i will get there this year.
Janet S said…
We will so miss hearing the nightingale this year. I remember it keeping me awake all night, but would love it to keep me awake again this year! So sad we will miss you all, but hope for better times soon.
We have your blogs to look forward too and that's a bonus!
Keep safe.
Janet and Cyril
We have added to this blog a recording that I took of the Nightingale in the garden a few nights ago. Enjoy!
Meropes said…
Martin -thank you so much! Very evocative, it transports me to myriad places in southern Europe - especially Extremadura - as well as a scrubby bit of land surrounded by electricity pylons by the River Lea!

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