Winter is an empty room. Winter is a noisy party. Both apply.
Now the wind and storms have piped down, the birds are having a ball. Gatherings of Brent geese are honking up and down the coast, flocking in vees, skimming the sea like fighter jets for (what looks like) the sheer joy of it. They keep on appearing wherever we are – Embleton, Craster, Low Newton, Beadnell – a hither and thither of sociable cacophony filling the skies.
I’ve been opening my ears as much as possible this year to the sounds of birds, inspired in particular by The Sound Approach whose mission is to popularize bird-listening. It makes me aware of the extent to which birdsong plays a backing soundtrack in our lives; but so often we don’t pay much attention to the chattering, squabbling, flirting, posturing, consternation and alarm… as we walk around intent upon our own communication with the world.
Some sounds are so familiar, as you can hear in our visit to Newton Pool, a National Trust bird reserve at Low Newton on the Northumberland coast. Most recognisable are the voluble quacks and splashing of mallards preening in the shallows – to the right in the recording if you have stereo headphones to hand. And lesser-known to me are teal – which bring a high-pitched tinkling of constant chatter to the pool. And now, with my December birthday’s pair of fantastic binoculars, I can hone in on the sound and see just how stunning teals are – flashing the colour that simply pales the colour-swatch approximation of the living thing.
I’m trying to tune myself in – ears are much better guides than eyes. Listen to what is a tiny brown darting spec in the rushes ahead of us – a chirr chirring that I think belongs to the tiniest of all British birds – the wren. Little birds can make big sounds.
And finally, soundtrack to the insistence of teal, the splashing of mallard and croak of a crow at the pond, the geese circling (for a third time) in another fly-over.
And to follow a morning of bird-watching… listen to Paul Mosley’s avian-inspired album A Chattering of Birds – an after-party for bird-obsessed humans like me.