Donal Hickey: Birdsong and sound of silence

It’s the silence. The huge drop in noise from motor traffic, and fewer people out and about enables us to hear sounds that are usually muffled by the bustle of normal everyday life.
Donal Hickey: Birdsong and sound of silence

It’s the silence. The huge drop in noise from motor traffic, and fewer people out and about enables us to hear sounds that are usually muffled by the bustle of normal everyday life.

Because of our changed ways of living, due to Covid-19 restrictions, birdsong seems louder and clearer. Numerous people have told us they’re hearing it again. Where I live within earshot of Killarney National Park, the blackbird’s distinctive warble dominates the avian choir.

Broadcaster Frank Lewis, who also lives close to the park, says the dawn chorus is near everyone, even outside their backdoors. And the best time to hear it is from an hour before sunrise. “Around then,’’ he says, “you will hear the first small birds. Very quickly, the blackbirds and thrushes join in. The sound builds to a great crescendo. The song is exceptional until about an hour after sunrise.

“The birds sing no matter what the weather, but the experience is better if the morning is calm when the song can be heard more clearly. A clear, calm, dry day is the best. If you are within 2km of a deciduous woodland or an area of scrub wood you will walk in heaven.’’

There are, of course, other less musical sounds out there. The rat-tat-tat call of the great spotted woodpecker has been compared, for instance, to machinegun fire, and is known as drumming.

Tom Lynch, of Clare Birdwatch, reports hearing drumming in Derrymore Wood, near the Cross of Spancilhill, best known for the famous, eponymous ballad. It was Tom’s first time hearing it anywhere. The attention of Clare birders was drawn to the bird by local organic farmer Jason Horner, who heard it last October.

About the size of a thrush, the great-spotted woodpecker is coloured black and white with red on the crown and under the tail. Some experts believe these woodpeckers became extinct here with the countrywide clearance of woodlands in the 17th and 18th centuries.

After a long absence, a pair was spotted in Co Down, in 2006, and a few years later in Wicklow, which now has more of them than any other county. The woodpeckers are also found in Dublin, Antrim, Fermanagh and are believed to be coming to woodlands here from across the Irish Sea.

A more regular visitor, the swallow, is here now after making the long, hazardous flight from Africa. And the cuckoo, harbinger of summer, should not be far behind. In more innocent times, writers of parish notes for local newspapers would vie to be first to announce the cuckoo’s arrival.

We hear the cuckoo’s call less often now, if at all. If any reader hears it they might please let us know the date and location.

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