Welcome to my birdwatching blog. This blog will contain stories about my bird watching trips, interesting bird news and other tales that may or may not be bird related. I want to make it useful to the avid birder as well as those who may only have a passing interest in bird watching. I enjoy photographing bird life, common and rare through a spotting scope, not that they always sit still long enough for me. Being on the outskirts of North East London, my reports will not only cover my local patch of Redbridge/Waltham Forest, but also dip into deepest Essex, Suffolk, Kent and Norfolk.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

The Dawn Chorus at Lee Valley

As my son and girlfriend stumbled into the house at 4.30am after clubbing in the West End, I was getting ready to drive the 5 miles it takes to get to the Lee Valley Park to experience the wonderful dawn chorus. Of course it takes a bit of effort to roll out of a comfy bed and into the cool (very cold really) spring morning but unless you have heard this incredible sound believe me the effort is worth it.

Lee Valley Park at 5am.

The vast chain of excavated gravel pits now turned into an amazing nature park for all is also a good place to find nightingales. They possess one of the richest and the most beautiful songs that can be heard in the natural world. The rich medley of liquid notes of the Nightingale has been a source of inspiration for poets and musicians such as Keats, Coleridge and Beethoven.

Wren. An incredibly loud song for such a tiny bird.

I arrived at 5am to find a full car park! Anglers are even madder than birders it seems but clearly the fishing is good here. As soon as I got out of the car, the sound of hundreds of birds hit me. Wrens, blackcaps, robins, song thrushes, blackbirds and chiffchaffs were all trying to outdo each other and it was deafening.
Male Chaffinch

My objective was to photograph nightingales. This isn’t easy as even when you hear one, it is very hard to locate it. Normally, they sing from deep inside a thicket or tree with as much cover as possible. And if that isn’t enough, they are masters at throwing their voice so even though you think you have the rough location, they could be 10-15 feet from it.


I walked towards a part of the park where I had encountered nightingales in previous years (I have filmed one singing which you can find on this blog.) and found an impressive male blackbird giving his lungs a good workout.

Overhead, common terns were calling and cormorants passed over heading for breakfast on the lakes.

Nightingale. No, I couldn’t get a better angle on it.

At 6.20am, I heard my first nightingale. There were probably 2 or 3 birds in this patch but it was difficult to pinpoint any of them. I was caught between which one to locate. Just as I picked one, it would stop singing and another some 50 yards away would start, enticing me towards it. This went on for half an hour before I got one. They’re not much to look at, just a plain brown and white plumage but there is still something special about them.

Elsewhere, willow warblers had warmed up and were singing. Cetti’s warblers, another very difficult bird to see but one with an explosive call were visible which is unusual.

On a negative note, I didn’t hear one cuckoo. The park always has cuckoos and with news that they are declining, it was really no surprise. Let’s hope their numbers will rise in the future.

Another great thing about an early morning walk is the smell. There is such a heavy perfume from wild flowers, blossom and tree flowers that it can be a little overpowering. One of the best emanates from the pussy willow. Once the catkin comes into full flower, the scent hangs in the early morning air and will always be a very evocative reminder of spring to me. 
Pussy Willow

Grey Heron

With the time approaching 9am, I decided to end the walk with a quick look at Hall Marsh Scrape. This is usually good for waders and I wanted to boost my numbers. There were lapwings and briefly, 4 shelduck but little else. In one of the channels though, I had a great photo-opportunity with a grey heron that was too busy fishing to worry about me. Normally herons will take flight at the slightest threat so this was a pleasant change for once. Birds normally wait for me to get everything set up and focused before flying off just as I’m about to click the shutter.

Totally focused.

Reed warblers and sedge warblers were now getting into the swing of it. These two have very similar songs with the sedge having a faster and coarser edge to the sound. Both birds occasionally showed themselves but neither allowed me to photograph them. Maybe next time.

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