Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Castle Espie birds back in full voice

Nature's finest singers have been silenced by the grim weather that has swept Northern Ireland in recent weeks – but now they're back in full voice.

Last month the Wildlife and Wetlands Trust was forced to cancel its early morning dawn chorus walk after blizzards hit Co Down, but it is promising a magnificent cacophony at its Castle Espie centre this Sunday as the birds spring into action.

Bird expert Dot Blakeley said the cold snap had delayed everything because the ground was too hard for our garden birds to find earthworms.

"It affects everything, really – the fact that they can't feed because they are dependent on worms," she said.

But now the birds are busy setting up their territories and letting other birds know they are there – producing one of nature's finest phenomena.

"This is their way of letting other birds know 'this is my territory'," she said.

Dot will lead people around the Castle Espie reserve on Sunday morning to help them identify the birds by their trills.

Male songbirds sing their hearts out to attract potential partners and protect their territories. And the reason they pipe up so early in the morning is that they can't reach the worms – so there's nothing else to do.

"The reason the birds are singing first thing in the morning is that literally they have made it through the night.

"When they wake up the soil is still cold so they can't get the worms until the light gets better and the heat comes and the worms start coming up through the soil.

"They have to wait until the worms come out, so they have nothing to do but sing."

The magnificent dawn chorus lasts for a month and then starts to peter out – once the birds are absorbed in family life.

"The female comes along and they start having their families. After another month or so, once the young hatch out, they don't have a lot of time for singing – they're too busy getting food," Dot added.

Contact Castle Espie on 028 9187 4146 to book your place.

Visitors are advised to bring their own binoculars and wrap up warm.

Dawn chorus walks are also being organised at Murlough Nature Reserve on May 4 – call 028 4376 7391 to book – and at Bishop's Gate, Downhill, on the north coast on May 5.

Call 028 2075 2100 to book a place.

Expert's view

"When the first light begins to shine, a solo bird will begin to sing, awakening others to the dawn and soon the air will be filled with the beautiful sound of birdsong. It's a feat only nature could achieve and to truly appreciate this magnificent spectacle it's well worth setting your alarm early. Daybreak in late spring is the best time for birdsong." Kerry Mackie, Castle Espie

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