Monday, 18 April 2011

Berkeley Square, all change

Awaking from a drowsy numbness the other night at about two o'clock, I was so struck by the fluting cascades of bird-song through the open window that I got up and went downstairs, opened the front door and stood for several minutes listening on the flagstones outside, still warm from the previous day's sun.

The nightingales are back. Hearing them for the first time in spring is something like hearing the first cuckoo in other climates. Mid-April is about right, though. Whatever it is that guides these little birds, slightly bigger than robins, on their migratory course from southern Africa back to Europe hasn't failed them. I don't think I've ever read anything about the effects of climate change on migration habits, but I don't expect I've looked in the right places.

A full moon silvered everything as I stood outside in bare feet with little else*. It was exceptionally still, with no sound apart from the ever-present distant murmur of the river. And, of course, the song of the nightingale. Nor was there only one: I could detect four or five, maybe more, each fainter as the distance between their territories swallowed them.

Experts say that it's only the males that sing. Opinion is divided as to whether they sing to mark their territory or to attract females. Maybe it's both. At any rate they sing until the summer heat closes in, but this coincides with birth and feeding of the nightingale chicks, so all the pairings-off must have been made some weeks before. And they sing during the day. There's one singing outside my window as I type this at 10 o'clock in the morning.

My small choir is preparing for a mini-tour of Northern Scotland in less than three weeks' time. They'll defend their corner, certainly, but how many will attract mates with their singing remains to be seen. If we make it, that is, because there's a question-mark over one of our songsters: he fell out of a tree the other day and injured himself. I haven't yet asked him if he was singing at the time. Fingers crossed for him, tho' I think he'll be all right.

*Yes, I KNOW


Dave said...

I try to avoid singing while climbing trees.

Or at any other time, come to that.

Christopher said...

Well, if you're ever looking for females it might be worth trying. What do you think?

Dave said...

I think it might drive them away.

Rosie said...

Well, what a pity. I will be in Northern Scotland in just over three weeks. I would have enjoyed the concert. No nightingales here yet.

Christopher said...

Rosie (just in case) and everyone else for information: Concert tour dates etc. are:

Ullapool: Fri. 6.5.11 (MacPhail Centre 7.30. £5 entry.)

Nairn: Sat. 7.5.11 (St Columba's church 7.30. £5 entry.)

Grantown on Spey: Sun. 8.5.11 (St Columba's - he got about - church 7.30. Donations.)

More than delighted to see anyone who drops in here, regulars, occasionals, lurkers, at all or any of these concerts. If you came to all three it need cost you no more than £10.01.

Z said...

When I was a child, nightingales came to a neighbour's garden one year. They were thrilled of course, and invited everyone round in the evenings to hear the song. After a few weeks, they confessed that they had rather had enough of being woken every night by birdsong.

An actual paper invitation has finally been sent your way, all hand-written and everything.

Anonymous said...

I recall as a child an occasional divertimento in the play of a nightingale shaped clay pipe which, when with a small amount of water deposited through the bill into the body of the ‘bird’ - could be blown via an opening at the end of the tail to produce a not unpleasant shrill gurgling note not too unlike birdsong. However, with rough play my bird pipe became cracked at its molded seam. Nevertheless, it still played somewhat, if, rather sounding like a toad (which also 'sing' at night one is given to understand).

Sarah said...

Bit of a kensho moment, being the bird song, by the sounds of things. Lucky the neighbours weren't up listening as well.
I've only heard a Nightingale once. Very special.

Christopher said...

Z: Too true. Like so many many of life's magical moments, the magic lies in the novelty.

Watching the post daily...

Anon: Yes, I remember them. In fact I still have one, but made of wood, last used in when playing percussion in a pit orchestra accompanying Oklahoma!, where at certain points in the overture bird song was required. There was also a two-note cuckoo flute (pitched in B flat) in which it was important to remember the correct order of notes. A cuckoo call the wrong way round might have altered the entire thrust of what is after all a very telling narrative.

Sah: Yes. Ah.

letouttoplay said...

(Laughing at Okie cuckoo)
I used to have one of those bird song pipes and I tried to get one for the grandchildren. The orchestral ones were disappointing, not being bird shaped.