Thursday, 5 May 2011

The Nightingale Discovery (9/4/11)

Excuse the lack of posting in recent weeks. Revision for exams has prevented me from updating and consequently means that I am not up to date, and now the exam period is underway it is certainly going to be a while until I’m completely up to date. Here I am though, finding a little gap in between hectic revision to push this blog forward to getting up to date – hopefully I will manage to fit in another post at the weekend. My last post chronicled the story behind me seeing the Bonaparte’s Gull on the Ythan on the day I was due to go down to Essex to see some friends, with plans after to have a few days birding in Norfolk and Suffolk after this visit. As a result, the next 3 or 4 posts will be about my trip in the aforementioned counties.

It’s April 9th, and I am with some family friends in Wivenhoe, Essex, near the town of Colchester. It was a glorious, warm day, and seeing that my Dad and I hadn’t been to the area for a long time, our friends were keen to get out and show us their area. They live very near an area of deciduous woodland which fringes the river Colne and its estuary, the Colne Estuary. It was through this woodland by the Colne Estuary that we where we planned to have a walk that morning. Considering that we’d be by an estuary I decided to take the bins in the event that there were some birds to see, and I also took my compact digital camera for some picture taking. I certainly didn’t envisage this to be productive on the bird front, seeing it more as a nice walk in which I would take the bins and do some very casual birding along the way whilst primarily socialising with my friends. However, it so happened that my perception of what the walk would be like was completely wrong; it was actually productive on the bird front without me putting any effort in to making it this way!

The walk started as I thought it would be for the entire time – my Dad and I chatting with our friends whilst enjoying the scenery and the idyllic weather and putting birding aside. We were walking along National Cycle Network Route 51, otherwise known as the Wivenhoe Trail, a hard dirt path running alongside following the course of the river Colne which we planned to follow until it felt appropriate to turn back. As we entered the area of deciduous woodland on the trail, it became immediately obvious that it was alive with bird song. A few Chiffchaffs (yeartick) were singing their hearts out, trying to compete with the songs of the commoner birds, one of which I managed to see briefly. Nothing else of interest seemed to be singing, so I quickly got back to socialising and continued on the walk. I found myself in deep conversation about school as the end of the woodland was in sight, my mind not on birding in any way whatsoever...

It was at this point that an extremely loud and varied burst of song erupted from the bush nearest to me – a song consisting of trilling sounds whistles and melodic gurgling notes. This was a song that you would never hear in North East Scotland; a song I had rarely heard before; a song that was completely unmistakable – the song of a Nightingale. Instantly my mind turned from socialising to birding as I stopped dead in my tracks and waited for it to sing again. It did, and there was no doubting that the bird in question was a Nightingale. I had heard Nightingale on a few occasions before this, but I was still yet to see one – they are notoriously elusive birds. Never before had I been so lucky as to have one singing just a few feet away me, so this was the ultimate opportunity to see a bird that had managed to elude me for years. I waited for a minute or so to see if the bird would fly and to see if I could get a glimpse of it. It didn’t – it kept on singing, with pauses in between each burst. With an occasion like this being so rare for me, I was eager to have a record of it. I reached for my digital camera - which conveniently has a video feature – and decided I was going to record the Nightingale singing. ’It will at least be conclusive evidence that I have heard one’, I thought as I got the camera out. I proceeded to record the bird for just over a minute, and then waited once again for it to stop singing. Two minutes passed, and it finally stopped. Panic ensued as I realised that the bird had probably moved. I scanned the ground and the bushes to see if I could catch sight of it, but I couldn’t. It didn’t sing again. I finally gave in, trying not to feel that frustrated that yet another Nightingale had managed to elude my view. As a result of not seeing the bird it could not be life-ticked nor year-ticked. Listening to the result of the recording eased my feelings of exasperation somewhat, and I furthermore knew that I could report this bird as this bird I had heard was one of a handful of early arriving Nightingales. When I got back to Aberdeen I uploaded the video onto the Internet. And here it is below, the singing Nightingale – please enjoy, thoughts on the video are welcome.

From this point onwards I tried to take my mind off birding and spend the walk with my friends, but this proved to be quite difficult. We proceeded to walk away from a path and sit by the estuary edge, and whilst sitting here it was hard not to take notice of the birds that were around. A mixed group of waders were opposite where we were sitting, and this consisted primarily of Redshanks and Curlews, but also Black-tailed Godwits, the latter species numbering over 30 and most of them in stunning summer plumage. This certainly kept my mind on birding, and as we walked back the way we had came I also noticed that a few summer plumaged Bar-tailed Godwits, presumably lingering birds that had stayed the winter. As we were nearing the end of our walk, I was fortunate to come across a long overdue year-tick, a stunning male Reed Bunting in a small area of reedbeds near the deciduous woodland. And finally, as we sat outside the local pub – which fortunately happened to be right down by the estuary, a lone Common Tern(yeartick) flew right past and proceeded to fly around for some time.

So, on a walk with friends in which I didn’t intend to do any birding I had managed to find an early singing Nightingale, see my first Common Tern and Reed Bunting of the year respectively, and count over 30 Black-tailed Godwits and 4+ Bar-tailed Godwits, almost all in summer plumage. It just goes to show the sort of things when you are outside doing something that isn’t bird related! My next post will be of my trip to Minsmere, so stay tuned if you want to find out about that. I will leave with you a selection of pictures of the Colne Estuary and also the deciduous woodland where I heard the Nightingale.

The area of bushes to the left of this picture was where it was singing....

The Colne Estuary

Thanks for reading,



  1. Hi Joseph nightingales can be very frustrating at times , good post , if you are ever down sussex this time of year Pulborough brooks is an excellent site for seeing Nightingales .

  2. Hi Rob,

    Thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed the post. They are indeed frustrating, and considering I live somewhere that you don't get them at all and can only get down to good areas for them occasionally, they contiune to be a bogey bird for me. Thank you for the information, I would definitely pay a visit if I was down that way!