15 May 2010 - The Ultimate Songster PDF Print E-mail

This time of year is a busy one for birders throughout the UK, especially those taking part in surveys to establish the type and number of birds that are present in our countryside.

I've been participating in the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) Breeding Bird Survey for a number of years and have had a couple of recent early mornings in order to catch the dawn chorus. I'm not keen on getting out of bed, but am always glad that I made the effort once I get outside.

Although I take binoculars, nearly all the birds recorded are by ear. To be honest I find the dawn chorus a bit daunting as it is dominated by a few very vocal species, but I thoroughly enjoy trying to pick out and identify different birds from the sounds they make.

We are extremely fortunate to have some fantastic songbirds in Britain; Blackbird, song thrush, robin, wren and chaffinch can be heard nearly everywhere giving strong performances. They are backed up by the metronomic chiffchaff and great tit, along with the under rated but fabulous blackcap. Add to this the mournful mistle thrush, squeaky dunnock, off key bullfinch plus many others and you have a wonderful free concert every spring morning!

It's a shame that the undisputed ultimate songster, the nightingale (pictured) cannot be heard locally. These drab looking summer visitors spend most of their time skulking away in dense bushes, but produce an acclaimed song of astounding variety - Unfortunately they do not migrate quite as far west as South Wales.

This wasn't always the case; Up until the middle of the last century nightingales bred throughout Gwent, particularly in the Usk and Wye valleys, and Pant yr eos, just North of Newport must have been a hot spot for the birds as it's name translates to 'valley of the nightingale'!

Nightingale numbers, in common with many other migratory birds are sadly on the wane. Only about 6,000 pairs presently breed in Britain, and these are virtually all found in South East England.

In Gwent there have been only a handful of local nightingale sightings since the 1960's – and no reports at all since 1998.

Hear Nightingales at Highnam Wood

Probably the nearest place to find nightingales is Highnam Wood in Gloucestershire, and readers may be interested to hear that GOS has arranged a guided walk there on Saturday 29th May.

The walk is being led by Keith Jones, a keen and very active local birder who knows this site well. As nightingales are renowned for singing late in the day and into the night, the walk is scheduled to start at 5.30pm and last until dusk. If you would like to come along (I'm hoping to be there) meet Keith at the RSPB car park (SO 778 190) by 5.30.

Highnam Wood is situated to the west of Gloucester, near the junction of the A48 and A40, Take the A48 from Chepstow or A40 from Ross.

Please wear suitable clothing and bring binoculars if you have them.

New faces are always welcome at GOS events – For more details visit www.gwentbirds.org.uk or give me a call on the number below.

Coming Up

There are a number of interesting local guided birdwatching walks coming up in the next few months. Keep an eye on this column for more news.

Keep in Touch

Thank you to all readers who have taken the time to get in touch. I enjoy hearing from you and can be contacted at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or on 01633 866470.

Mark Stevens