I consider myself very fortunate indeed that I heard more than one nightingale on my walk in the forest on Sunday; I even managed to get a photo to check this was what I was really hearing since I was quite amazed….they are so rare that I had hardly ever seen or heard one in my life before. We have apparently lost 40 million of them in the UK in the last 50 years, their numbers “plummeting by 93% to fewer than 5,500 pairs” (see article below). The irony is that they are known as the “common” nightgale and yet I struggled to find a “commons” photo to use (the one I managed to take was poor and partly obscured by foliage). Its so very sad to watch these extinctions taking place and there will only be more, until we get ourselves back in balance…
Which is why I doubted my ears at first, yet the up-and-down song and the rich velvet diversity of its verses had me wondering, even before I confirmed with my eyes. Blackcap was my first thought about this song which (was I imagining it or were these birds hopping around very fast or throwing their voices) seemed to be coming from almost every bush; but no, I already had my suspicions this was something rarer, and then I got the first sighting of the smallish brown bird, creamy white front, high up in a tree. I got home and compared the short recording I’d taken with examples on the RSPB site and Youtube and still I wasn’t quite convinced that “my” song matched the examples until, I read, the nightingale has over 200 phrases in its repertoire, using around 250 different buzzes and trills and whistles…so there is no singularly distinctive trill or phrase, this bird has a lot to say!
And I got the distinct feeling these birds had a great deal they they wanted to say on this occasion; something had certainly set them all off. I find I want to ask (not for the first time, see my post The Frequency of Birds), what part does frequency play in the triggering off the song of these birds, especially when they sing at nighttime, as they are famed to do?
Musician Sam Lee is in Berkeley Square tonight, reworking “A Nightingale Sang in Berkley Square” to an audience that he hopes will disperse playing the nightingale’s song on their phones to draw attention to their plight. This is a closing ceremony of sorts to the Extinction Rebellion events that have been taking place…a poignantly fitting one at that, since we stand to loose so much more if we don’t pay attention to what this movement is all about.
If you’ve never heard of Lee, look him up or, better still, listen. He organises these wonderful events (see Singing With Nightingales) where you go for nighttime walks in the kind of woods where some of the very few nightingales can still be heard, to a secret location where he and other musicians improvise song and music with the birdsong, around a campfire. It’s high on my wish list to go to one of these events as soon as its feasible to arrange one we can get to easily as they sound just magical.
In Lee’s words, the nightingale is
“an animal that is so utterly at one with music and the environment and using all the tropes and articulation and emotional capacity of a human musician, in the shape of a tiny brown feathered being. Its song is absolutely full of indulgence and decadence and serenity and sexuality and pleasure and connection and commonality.”
The fact that I heard these birds, for the first time ever, in multiples, on Sunday as the Schumann Resonance got going into what turned out to be a two-day extravaganza of high frequencies, ranging from 30 up to 89 Hz (from the “usual” 7.83Hz) feels like no coincidence. Increased frequencies, to which we could expect birds to be especially sensitive, may have contributed to the extraordinary bird song levels and certain trends in bird behaviour…something I’ve been noticing for a while.
These include significantly increased thirst levels (a trait I share when the SR is spiking, said as I guzzle yet another large glass of water, hoping to sate today’s unquenchable thirst). My husband, who also noted relentless thirst today, works in a converted barn on a farm and has a water trough right outside his window for the horses in the field. He said he has never seen so many varieties of birds arriving as showed up today; magpies, rooks, woodpigeons and more were virtually queueing up for water like it was a soup kitchen, returning over and over again for more. Its been like that at my fountain too, including some very thirsty goldfinches who, strangely enough, seem to show up in number whenever the SR is high, though I used to consider myself fortunate if I saw one or two in a whole summer. Whenever they arrive in their gangs, to invade my water vessels and the very airwaves with their unmistakably excitable song, it feels as though the golden energy is flooding in!
Today, the birdsong outside my window and down the chimney has quite soared with the SR and the birds are clearly feeling pretty excitable about it all. Interesting times.