Tag Archives: the dawn chorus

Looking On From Above

When the clocks went back last October I wrote this story about the confusion it caused the bird population. As the clocks go forward again this weekend I’m wondering what they’ve been making of what’s been going on lately… 


Keeping watch

After the mysterious event of the previous October, when all of humankind had travelled one hour back in time, the birds had for a while kept a worried eye on them, watching out for any oddities in their behaviour.

Just four days later the humans had all dressed either as if they were witches or as if they had an axe protruding from their head.

In December they had strung lights upon the trees in their gardens, something the birds found infuriating, much as we would if somebody broke in and filled our house with lava lamps.

On the last day of the year they had gathered in a circle in the street at midnight, linking hands the wrong way round and singing a song that made absolutely no sense.

In other words they were their normal eccentric selves. The birds had relaxed.

Then March came, and many of the humans simply disappeared.

The children no longer went to school. The teenagers no longer pretended to be going to lectures. The man from Number Four no longer headed off to play golf.

The small numbers that did take to the streets would pass each other in a wide arc, like ships in the night, though not in the romantic sense of that phrase.

The lady from Number Nine did still open her corner shop each day, though she now seemed to sell only toilet-roll and pasta.

The bewildered birds were now gathered in the tree at the back of Number Six.

“I reckon it’s Game of Thrones,” said the Blackbird.

“Game of Thrones?” said the Robin.

“Must be,” said the Blackbird. “It’s the only thing that would keep so many of them in. I reckon they’ve made a new series.”

“I thought it had finished,” said the Wren. “Most of them died.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time characters have been brought back from the dead,” said the Blackbird. “Sherlock Holmes. Bobby Ewing. Hamlet’s dad.”

“Hamlet’s dad was a ghost,” said the Thrush. “That’s not coming back from the dead, that’s just visiting.”

The Blackbird shrugged non-existent shoulders. “Whatever,” he said. “The thing is, Game of Thrones made an absolute fortune, there’s no way they were going to give it up.”

“O-k,” said the Wren doubtfully, “but why is the pub closed?”

The Blackbird hesitated, but only for a second. “Lent,” he said.

“Rubbish,” snorted the Robin, nodding at the phalanx of empty wine bottles in the garden of Number Six. “Whatever they’re doing, they haven’t given up drink.”

“Maybe they don’t need each other any more,” said the Chaffinch. “They have Netflix, and Facebook, and online just about everything. Maybe people have realised that they’re not people people.”

There was a pause while the others worked mentally through this sentence.

The Wren looked at the others – her fellow dawn-choristers, her flight companions, her co-conspirators in occasionally dive-pooing cats. Her friends.

“They’re wrong,” she said. “They’ll soon realise just how much they miss each other.”




In The Cold Light Of Morning

The clocks went back here in Ireland last night…


The black became less black.

To the east a thin grey line appeared. It grew, then grew brighter as the grey became yellow, pale and infinitely beautiful.

It was dawn.

And Showtime.

The Blackbird was first, as always, with its short whistling song. The Robin soon joined in with a quicker tune, tinkling like angels giggling. Quickly the others began to sing too, the Wren, the Thrush, the Chaffinch, a glorious, joy-filled, joy-inspiring welcome to the coming day.

After a few minutes, though, they faltered, looking at one another in confusion. They weren’t being joy-inspiring, because there wasn’t anyone to inspire joy in. The streets remained silent, the house-lights unlit.

“Where is everyone?” asked the Wren.

At dawn on a Sunday morning, “everyone” is a relative term. Yet she was right. Normally by this time the man from Number Four was heading down the garden path to his car, on his way to play golf, the man from Number Twelve was walking his dog, the lady from Number Nine was on her way down the street to open her corner shop.

There was no sign of any of them.

“I don’t know,” said the Robin. “Maybe they had a street party last night, and all got drunk.”

“Wouldn’t stop Number Four,” said the Blackbird. “He never misses golf, ever. Even goes if it’s snowing.”

“Really?” said the Chaffinch.

The Blackbird nodded. “Yellow balls,” he explained.

“I’m not surprised,” said the Chaffinch. “He’d be freezing.”

There was a short silence. “We should see if the church is open,” said the Robin eventually. “It opens early every Sunday morning.”

They rose and flew – in V-formation, just because they could – down to the church. Not a single house-light was on as they passed. The church, too, was in darkness, it’s great door shut.

“Gosh,” said the Chaffinch. “God’s gone too.”

They flew back to their own street, each silent, alone with their thoughts. They gathered, as always, in the tree at the back of Number Six.

“Let’s face it,” said the Blackbird. “The humans are dead.”

The Chaffinch nodded. “Internet virus, probably,” he said.

“Wow,” said the Wren. “Death by Twitter.”

“Serves them right for calling it that,” said the Thrush. “It was really offensive, it implied that we talk shite.”

“Never mind that,” said the Wren. “Who’s going to fill our feeders with beer-nuts?”

“We don’t need nuts,” said the Blackbird. “We can pick berries. We can eat worms. Which,” he went on, brightening, “if everyone is dead -”

The Wren shuddered. “Don’t even say it,” she said.

“Mind you,” said the Thrush, “the ducks down in the pond will probably struggle.”

“We’ll have to find a way of feeding them,” said the Robin.

“And we’ll have to organise rescue parties for the budgies trapped in the houses,” said the Wren.

“We could fly down the chimneys in groups,” said the Robin, “we’d soon be able to break open their bars.”

“What about the apartments?” asked the Chaffinch. “They don’t have chimneys.”

“You’re right,” said the Robin. “We’ll have to break the windows.”

The Blackbird snorted, causing a small piece of blackberry to shoot from one nostril. “Have you never flown full-belt into a window?” he said. “It’s like head-butting a wall.”

“We’ll get the woodpeckers to help us,” said the Wren.

“Good idea,” said the Robin. “Then we -” 

Suddenly they heard a sound, the hushed sound of somebody trying to quietly shut a front door, as if not to wake a spouse. They all turned and watched.

Number Four was lurching unsteadily down his garden path toward his car.

“They’re zombies!” gasped the Thrush.

“Zombies with beer-nuts, hopefully,” said the Wren, still struggling with the worm idea.

The Blackbird shook his head. “He’s just half-asleep,” he said. “He goes out like that every Sunday morning. How he calls it fun I’ve no idea.”

They watched as drove off in his car, then as Number Twelve emerged from his house with his dog, then as Number Nine came out and began to walk towards the corner shop.

In the distance they heard the church-bell ring.

They all looked at each other in confusion. “So what happened?” said the Chaffinch.

“Morning was broken,” said the Wren.

“Yes, but how?” asked the Chaffinch.

“There’s only one explanation,” said the Blackbird. “The humans all travelled back in time by one hour.”

“How could that be possible?”

The Blackbird shrugged. “Some NASA experiment gone wrong, I’d say. They’ll do some sort of cover-up. No-one will never know.”

“Never know?” said the Robin. “Surely they’ll all notice that it’s brighter than it was when they got up yesterday.”

“Will they?” said the Blackbird, nodding down the street to where Number Nine, with a yawn wide enough to swallow a bear, was trying to fit her key into the door of her shop. “Though they like to think otherwise, people are not morning people.”




Stellar By Starlight

The clock going forward last weekend means that I am again getting up for work in the dark.

This reminds me of the times during the last couple of months when the project that I was working on seemed never-ending, and to try and ever-end it I was going into work at seven.

There is no bus that would get me in that early so I would have to leave my house at 5.30 for the longer walk to the station to catch the six o’clock train. This sounds like torture but in fact there were times when it was a lovely walk, with stars and the moon still in the sky.

There was nobody else around, a human silence in which to appreciate birdsong.

The walk would take me around the side of Greystones Golf Course and the beauty and variety of the sounds coming from the trees there can be breathtaking.

I don’t know much about ornithology so I can’t tell which birds I was listening to. I presume one of them was the lark, since otherwise the phrase “up with the lark” is meaningless.

As for the rest of the dawn chorus, they could be anything. Sparrows. Puffins. Tits.

At times the project caused exhaustion, stress, disillusionment and depression. But the morning walk used to help me deal with all of this.

The world around you, if you open your senses and take it all in, is a constant source of wonder.