Week 9: Heron to Bearded Tit

Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea), Little Egret (Egretta garzetta), Bittern (Botauris stellaris)

These birds are guaranteed to inspire awful punning, so I’m just going to put them all here by way of a pre-emptive strike.

‘Speak up – my heron’s not so good.’ ‘Egrets, I’ve had a few.’ ‘Once bittern, twice shy.’

ETCETERA

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A grey heron is always a pleasing sight. Unless, I suppose, you’re a fish. Even though they’re a common sighting on our lakes and rivers, they’re not especially vocal (except when at the nest, when they can get a bit shouty). When they do call, the sound – like their appearance – has a touch of the prehistoric about it – a raw, rasping shriek.

(recording: brickegickel)

Here’s another one, included mostly because the recordist has described it as ‘call, flight call, incredible scream’. I can only agree.

(recording: Joost van Bruggen)

Related to the heron are the egrets. We see three species in this country, all of them encountered much more often than they used to be. I’ll feature the commonest and most widespread, the little egret.

Don’t be fooled by the Persil-white plumage. The little egret is a croaky bugger. This recording gives you a very good idea of its repertoire.

(recording: Tony Fulford)

And finally, one of the most extraordinary and evocative bird sounds you’re likely to hear: the booming of the bittern.

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The bittern’s booming is low for birdsong. Very low. This recording gives you not only the booming, but, in the words of the recordist, ‘breath and bill-flap as he fills up his bellows’. Magnificent, magical stuff.

(recording:  Patrik Åberg)

Fans of guttural shrieking can find heron sounds here, and little egret sounds here. If, like me, you prefer booming, the bittern sounds are here.


Grasshopper Warbler (Locustella naevia)

Grashoppsangare-070512

(photo: Stefan Hage)

The grasshopper warbler is another one of those small brown birds that very much resembles all those other small brown birds. Until, that is, it sings. You can probably guess what it sounds like from the name. If you hear a continuous reeling coming from deep cover, it’s probably a grasshopper warbler. Or an old-fashioned alarm clock with muffled clappers.

(recording: Jarek Matusiak)

That’s it. I have nothing more to say about it.

Don’t pretend you’ve got anything better to do than while away the hours listening to grasshopper warblers.


Ring-necked Parakeet (Psittacula krameri)

For residents of London and the south east, these birds are either a welcome and exotic splash of colour, or a squawking nuisance. It slightly depends on how many you see and how often you encounter them.

One or two flying quickly by in formation with no more than a passing ‘kwee-ack’ to announce their presence? Lovely. Fifty of the bastards roosting in the trees behind your house, squawking it up, dominating your bird feeders and crapping on the patio? Unlovely.

Their call is undeniably on the harsher side. But some of the sounds they make in between are rather more endearing. Either way, you’re probably not going to have trouble identifying them by sight or sound.

(recording: Julien Rochefort)

I’ll be the first to admit that listening to multiple examples of parakeet sounds is a niche interest, but here they are anyway.


Dipper (Cinclus cinclus)

Eurasian_White-fronted_Dipper,_C_cinclus

(photo: Andrew2602)

Here’s a proper good ‘un, a bird of great charm. Every sighting is a treat.

You’ll find dippers next to fast running water, especially if there are rocks nearby for convenient perching. They’re mostly an upland bird, but my favourite is the one I visit every year when I’m in Edinburgh (head for the Water of Leith at Stockbridge). Listen carefully and you might hear the dipper’s squeaky, throaty, slightly hesitant song above the rush of the water.

(recording: Jarek Matusiak)

It also makes a high-pitched ‘tschip’ call, just like all those other high-pitched ‘tschip’ calls that make you look up and spend the next five minutes looking fruitlessly for the thing that just made the high-pitched ‘tschip’ call.

(recording: Stein Ø. Nilsen)

Part of the charm of the dipper is their bobbing action as they stand on a rock passing the time of day. Another is their habit of walking underwater on the stream bed. So much more convenient than swimming (they do swim as well, though).

Dipper sounds galore.


Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis)

Alcedo_atthis_1_(Marek_Szczepanek)

(photo: Marek Szczepanek)

Now we’ve done the dipper, let’s hang around the water just a little longer. I hold that nearly all experiences are 10% improved, on average, if you’re next to water.

Also making any experience at least (at the very least) 10% better is a sighting of a kingfisher. I mean bloody hell just LOOK AT IT. What a magical bird. I know I say this a lot, but then birds are magical, aren’t they? For starters, THEY CAN FLY. Never take that bit for granted. And the kingfisher can really fly, an orange and turquoise flash low across the water and then gone.

As for noises, it doesn’t make many. Why would it need to, when its colours are that eye-catching? But knowing what it sounds like might help with that elusive sighting. Its call is a sharp ‘zii’or ’tsii’ or ’tsee’ or look, somebody really needs to come up with a better system for transliterating birdsong.

Here’s a nice example of a kingfisher in flight.

(recording: Jarek Matusiak)

So that’s the kingfisher. There’s only one word for that. Magic darts.

If you need to hear more kingfisher sounds, they’re here, but I should warn you they all sound pretty much the same.


Lesser Whitethroat (Sylvia curruca) & Dartford Warbler (Sylvia undata)

Here are two birds that, in all honesty, you’re not that likely to see or hear unless you seek them out. But I like them, so I’ll do them anyway. They’re both warblers, and they’re both lovely in their own particular way.

The lesser whitethroat is yet another of those little grey/brown jobs with a scrabbly song. It comes in two parts: scratchy warble to start, slowish trill (compared, say, to the wren’s quickfire version) to finish.

(recording: Jarek Matusiak)

Like most small birds, it keeps an alarm call close at hand, to warn everyone of danger. It’s a short and crisp ‘chick’.

(recording: Lars Edenius)

The Dartford warbler was a bird of romantic legend in my youth. The British population had been all but wiped out by the harsh winter of 1962/3. I never ever thought I’d see one. So when the bird above popped up in front of me in the summer of 2016 I did a little dance of joy. A very little one, so as not to scare it off.

The Dartford warbler’s song is fast, agitated and scratchy.

(recording: Marco Dragonetti)

An alarmed Dartford warbler will make this noise, a soft shriek (if such a thing exists).

(recording: Stanislas Wroza)

As I say, these aren’t especially common birds in Britain, though neither are they vanishingly rare. Heathland with gorse is good for Dartford warblers. Lowland scrub is where you might find a lesser whitethroat skulking.

Find more lesser whitethroat song here.

And thrill to the repertoire of the Dartford warbler here.


Bearded Tit (Panurus biarmicus)

Bartmeise(Cropped)_by_Wolfram_Riech

(photo: Wolfram Riech)

What do you call a bird that isn’t a member of the tit family and doesn’t have a beard Obviously, you call it the ‘bearded tit’, even though it should really be ‘moustachioed parrotbill’.

 

Nowadays it appears in books as ‘bearded reedling’ or occasionally ‘bearded parrotbill’ but I stick with ‘bearded tit’ because it’s what I learned and I’m resistant to change.

As the ‘reedling’ name suggests, the bearded tit is a bird of reedbeds. They’re not common, but it’s well worth a visit to a reed-filled nature reserve in the hope of running into one.

The first hint of the presence of a bearded tit might well be its call. Some say ‘ping’, others say ‘twang’. I say ‘a coiled spring hit by a triangle beater’. Not necessarily accurate, but more fun.

(recording: Jarek Matusiak)

If coiled springs being hit with triangle beaters is your thing, click this link.


Ready for more? Week 10 is here.

The Twitter Birdsong Project is a free resource. However, if you enjoy it and would like to support it, you can buy me a coffee.


The recordings on this page were made by various people, and are used here under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license. These and many more can be found at the excellent resource xeno-canto.org


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