9 May 2013

Then It Dawned On Me

Spooky mist ... and compulsory discarded lager can

It was International Dawn Chorus Day the other day. This is run by The Wildlife Trusts who want people to experience the dawn chorus in their gardens or join organised walks, and make note of all the interesting birds they can hear.

Last year I did this in Garden65. It was a magical hour, very atmospheric, but disappointing ornithologically. In that absolutely no birds sang their little hearts out in these trees. There was a blackbird that sat on a neighbour's TV aerial and had a good shout, but otherwise the chorus took part some distance away. This year, then, I rather boldly ventured out into the nearby Fog Lane Park.

I kitted myself out as though it was a great expedition: hat, gloves, leggings under jeans, walking boots, thermos of coffee, toast wrapped in tin foil.

I was so nervous about it that to be honest I missed the official Day, and only reluctantly got up the next morning. I told the family that I definitely didn't want to do it, but I knew it would be enjoyable once I got there. It's a bit like doing exercise - getting out of the door is difficult but you feel pleased with yourself once the whole event is over.

In short, I made a fuss.

However, what was a big adventure for me turns out to be completely normal for my children.

Just as I went to leave my daughter came in.

She bounced in, pony tail flying, with bare ankles, leggings with no covering jeans, and only a t-shirt and thin cardigan on. It hadn't got into my head that she may go out when it is dark, and spend a few hours in the dark of a nightclub, but when she comes back the birds are singing and the sky is pink. Of course, the magic of the natural world completely bypasses her. The idea of listening to the birds and making notes of which ones you can hear just doesn't make sense to her. Her ears are probably ringing, so she couldn't here them anyway.

It goes back to that idea of framing. A thing itself, be it flower border, dawn, or something you are cross about, has no meaning until you give it one yourself. My daughter doesn't attach any significance to dawn whereas I go all misty eyed about it.

My son too is comfortable with being outside as the sun rises. He has been a paper boy for many years. I truly admire him for his fortitude. Every Saturday and Sunday he has ventured out on his bike through rain, snow and ice, and is very familiar with dawn. In fact he is so toughened to the phenomenon that he says he prefers the winter time when he starts in the dark and sees the sun gradually rise, in comparison to the summer when it is light throughout his rounds.

It is worth noting, although I am sure you already know this, that 'dawn' may officially be when the sun rises over the horizon, but birds don't have access to astronomical data sets. The sky becomes light well before the official time, so the birds begin to sing an hour or more before dawn. Both this year and last year I made the mistake of setting out about half an hour before official dawn, but the show had already peaked by then and the poor little birds were beginning to got on with the more prosaic task of feeding.

Half an hour or so after official dawn