2 May 2016

What It's Really All About

Last Sunday I set the alarm for 4.15 am. When it went off I can't say I jumped out of bed with any great enthusiasm. In fact I turned over and firmly drew the duvet over my ears, but then I realised it was now or never, this moment only comes once a year, so I had to get up.

The First of May was International Dawn Chorus Day, when you go out at dawn and listen to the wonder of all the little birds singing their hearts out. I've taken part twice before in 2012 here and 2013 here. The first time I ventured only as far as Garden65, the second, across the road to Fog Lane Park. This time, given the new relationship with Fletcher Moss Park, I chose to mark the event by walking dazedly around a less ordered landscape.

Dawn itself was at 5.34 am, but birds don't have access to online apps to tell them that, so they start singing before the sun appears over the horizon, just as it is getting light. When I arrived the ornate gate to the park entrance was locked. There was a moment's hesitation (with sweet thoughts of going back to bed) then I did what all the other night time users of municipal parks do, I shouldered through the adjoining hedge, and emerged into the open, black, and empty space.

The Chorus was in full swing. The last two times I did this I missed the full force of the singing because I hadn't got up early enough, but this time I'd caught it right. The trouble is I can't distinguish one chirp from another. Blackbirds are unmistakable, but if everyone sings together I've got no chance of saying what species is where. In a way though this isn't a disadvantage. It may even be a positive. Humans can't help wanting to name or label things, and in this way pin them down. But, surely, the purpose of this annual event is to experience a magical natural phenomenon, not to use it to complete some list or other. Standing around in the dark listening to unseen creatures sing is the point. Sure, I'm telling you about it, trying to nail down what happened, but we know these words in no way capture the true beauty of the moment. And in this way my ignorance becomes an asset.

Another area in which ignorance is bliss is that of the birds themselves. Chumps like me the world over may be moved to contemplate spiritual matters when we hear the dawn chorus, but in reality such deep concerns are far from the tiny minds of the birds doing the shouting. This is not singing to celebrate the birth of a new day and the joy of being alive, this is territorial display. What they are really saying is "This is mine! Come any closer and I'll peck your eyes out, and kick your chicks out of your pathetically made nest!" In effect what we are hearing is a chorus of

"F**k off! F**k off! F**k off!"

The tapping at the end of this film is me frantically jabbing at the phone to turn the camera off.