It’s not often I’m up before the sun, but last Thursday morning was just such an occasion. Every year I take part in the Breeding Bird Survey, which entails visiting the same 1km square during the bird breeding season and following the same route across it in two different directions, logging all the birds seen or heard on the way.
It has to be done at dawn as that is when birds are at their most vocal, singing to proclaim territories, while the acoustics are good and before other duties such as feeding, mating and nest building take precedence, later in the day.
It was a perfect morning for the job, with clear skies, no wind and a covering of frost on the grass, as I set out just after 5am.
My allotted square lies deep within Philiphaugh estate near Selkirk and it is a good 20-minute walk to reach my start point. On the way I tuned myself in to the various calling birds to hone my listening skills for the task ahead.
The sun was still to appear above the horizon as I mentally ticked off some of the easier ones such as chiffchaff, willow warbler and wren, as practice.
Walking quietly past a small pond, I disturbed a pair of mallards and I could see the silhouette of an oystercatcher, roosting at the water’s edge.
Eventually, I arrived at my start point just as the sun peeped over the hill, so it was out with my form and pencil and on with the job. The first birds I saw were a pair of red-legged partridges, which was great, as I hadn’t seen them in “my square” before, over all the years I had been doing the survey. What a brilliant start!
Other gems later on were whitethroat, blackcap and jay, but it was nice to hear the common birds as well, all singing their heads off. Everywhere I heard the little bird with the big voice – the wren – and most numerous other species were wood pigeon and pheasant.
It was magical experience, just being out in the woods at that time of day with the sun streaming through the trees and the only sound coming from the birds.
One bird which I didn’t hear or even expect to, was the cuckoo. I got to thinking about how common it used to be in the Borders and how much it has declined in recent years. To try and find out just how bad the situation is, I thought I would ask Southern readers to help try and plot its last strongholds in our region.
If you hear this unmistakable bird during the next couple of months, why not e-mail me with a note of the location and date and at the end of the season I will be able to see just where they are still hanging on. Send your record to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will pass the information on to the British Trust for Ornithology at the end of the season.