Nature’s symphony

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions
Song thrush © Chris Gomershall

Song thrush © Chris Gomershall

As spring approaches, the UK readies itself for the arrival of dawn chorus: Mother Nature’s rousing birdsong symphony in all its melodious glory. Birds begin to fill the air with song in late March /early April. Wrens and robins often start first, claiming the early spot in the choir. Then it is time for blackbirds and song thrushes who, with their large eyes can spot a worm in the ground before the sun has fully risen. Soon, they are joined by the vocal weight of the chorus – only the nightingale enjoys a solo spot, preferring to sing in the middle of the night rather than sunrise. The reason? As the plain-Jane of the bird world – brown, broad-tailed and skulking in character – nightingales can’t afford to rely on visual cues to attract a mate. So they proclaim their health by using their famous song of high quality, with a fast succession of high, low and rich notes that few other species can match.

To be wowed by the full force of a mega-watt dawn chorus, be prepared to get up nice and early – around half-and-hour before sunrise is best. You’ll then have a good hour or so to appreciate the full range of sounds the dawn chorus offers – new birds will join in as the sun rises higher. The last to start singing are the smaller birds that feed on tiny bugs and insects but as there is limited food available in the wee small hours, these birds don’t get up as early.

All of the RSPB nature reserves have a dawn chorus that will boost anyone’s morning spirits but here are a few we suggest.


eider duck © Jules Hill

eider duck © Jules Hill

Leighton Moss, Carnforth, Lancashire
Birds abound in the largest reedbed in north-west England, home to some really special species such as breeding bitterns, bearded tits and marsh harriers. Stroll along leafy trails to reach the heart of the reedbed or meander along wildlife-rich paths alongside two coastal lagoons to see wading and water birds. Stand on the causeway to hear booming bitterns or delve into the woodlands for the early melodies of birdsong.
Tel: 01524 701601

The Lodge, Sandy, Bedfordshire
Spring at this rugged 180-acre heathland reserve brings an abundance of birdsong as birds do their best to compete to establish territories and attract a mate. Marvel at woodpeckers drumming and calling in the trees, songbirds setting up breeding territories, snowdrops and bluebells on the woodland floor and azaleas and rhododendrons in flower in the headquarters’ gardens. Delve in attractive nature trails, along Iron Age banks and the ditches on Galley Hill – a powerful stretch of countryside that resonates with birdsong in spring.
Tel: 01767 680541


robin © Jules Hill

robin © Jules Hill

Frampton Marsh, Boston, Lincs
Enjoy a symphony of birdsong at this scenic wetland reserve as well as thousands of passage waders on freshwater pools and grassland – up to 50 whimbrels is a regular feature throughout spring. Expect to hear a vocal cacophony of breeding redshanks on the saltmarsh where they can be seen harrying predatory gulls and crows. Lapwings, avocets, little ringed plovers, redshanks and even snipe can all be seen and heard – listen out for them over the reed-hemmed freshwater wetlands.
Tel: 01205 724 678

Portmore Lough, Craigavon, County Armagh

If you enjoy walking, wildlife and beautiful birdsong, Portmore Lough is a great place to walk on a fresh, spring morning with its bird-rich trails and herd of konik ponies. Wander past the meadows where displaying lapwing herald the start of the breeding season while meadow pipits and skylarks sing overhead. Reed buntings, willow, grasshopper and sedge warblers declare territory from the ditch edges. Here large dragonflies such as common hawker or four-spotted chaser hunt. Yellow marsh marigold and pink lady’s smock flower on the meadow attracting orange-tip and green-veined white butterflies. Willow catkins, blackthorn and hawthorn blossom adorn while deep within the woodlands blackcaps sing and tree sparrows investigate nestboxes.
Tel: 028 9049 1547



Minsmere, Saxmundham, Suffolk
With its splendid woodland, wetland and coastal scenery, Minsmere is a haven for wildlife and is home to rare birds breeding and calling in on their migrations and shy wildlife like otters. Visitors in spring can hear the booming call of bitterns during idyllic walks or trips out to the coastal lagoons. Ducks begin to leave in March and the first wading birds move through on their way north. Avocets and Mediterranean gulls return to breed among the black-headed gull colony on the Scrape, followed in mid April by the first common terns. Look for the dramatic switchback display flights of marsh harriers above the reedbeds and explore the woods to the beautiful songs of nightingales and various warblers or drumming great spotted woodpeckers. Sand martins return to nest outside the café and the first dragonflies emerge in late April. Look for Dartford warblers and woodlarks on the heath, or a basking adder, fresh from hibernation.
Tel: 01728 648281


For events at any of the RSPB reserves, visit or click here.






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