Dawn Chorus Walk 2017

There are few people for whom I would gladly get up at 4am, but I would make an exception for Ian Boyd, Director of Arc Consulting, a non-profit company that promotes the re-utilization of public spaces and buildings for the benefit of the community, both humans and wildlife.

ian boyd, artecology, arc consulting, ecology, wildlife expert, entomologist
The Infectious Enthusiasm of Ian Boyd

It's his wildlife knowledge and in particular his ability to identify countless bird songs with infectious and inexhaustible enthusiasm that gets me up at that hideous time on a Saturday morning and keeps me returning year after year for his dawn chorus walk.

The overnight rain filled the air with the earthy fragrance of petrichor as12 welly-clad and bleary-eyed figures met at the start of the Sandown to Cowes cycle path at 4.30am for the Dawn Chorus Walk, part of the annual Isle of Wight Walking Festival.  Each time I've been on this walk, I've learnt some amazing things about the wildlife on my doorstep.

12 bleary eyed and enthusaistic dawn chorus walkers
12 bleary-eyed and enthusiastic dawn chorus walkers
 Why do the Birds Sing?

The answer it seems, could be one of several.  It may be too dark to forage making insects and seeds harder to find; it could also be to attract a mate and define their territory, as it's only the males that perform a dawn chorus in the UK.  It may also be beneficial for them to sing in low light because they will be less visible to predators.  If they've had a good feed the day before and made it through the night, many birds are lost overnight if they've not eaten enough the previous day and it turns cold during the night, they play out a glorious orchestrated and choreographed dawn chorus.

Despite the light rainfall, blackbirds, robins and wrens started first."The ones with the largest eye size to body ratio," Ian told us.  A dunnock followed the song thrush and as we walked along the old railway track from Sandown to Alverstone, blackcaps and chiffchaffs joined the feathered alarm clocks as the initial choristers went off in search of food.

Shortly after the mill at Alverstone weir, we arrived at some coppiced woodland and scrubby thicket, an ideal habitat for a nightingale.  The nightingale had only been heard once on the dawn chorus walk in the last 6 years and I was lucky enough to be present that time.  I hadn't realised  how unusual it was to hear a nightingale and it had been so long, I doubt if I would have recognised it again had Ian not suddenly stopped us and excitedly pointed out the incredibly varied song of the nightingale.

We listened in silence for over 5 minutes, amazed at the sometimes electronic sounding trills, runs and embellished warbles from the nightingale.  I peered longingly in the direction of the song but despite sounding tantalisingly close, he remained concealed.

On the return loop, we spotted a beautiful chaffinch singing from the branch of an oak tree, a cettis warbler blasted his song as we neared his territory and a lesser white throat played the finale to another delightful dawn chorus walk.  None of those birds would I have been able to identify had it not been for the expertise of Ian Boyd.

If you ever get the chance and have the least bit of interest in birds then you must make the effort, and it is an effort, to get up at 4am on the day of the dawn chorus walk.

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