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So much wonder so close to home

Please join your local wildlife trust today

Please join your local wildlife trust today

Please join your local wildlife trust today

Posted: Friday 18th May 2018 by bbowtblog

Cholsey Marsh Early morning mists at Cholsey Marsh by Ed Munday

There really is “wildness everywhere if we only stop in our tracks and look around us”.

Ed MundayWritten by Ed Munday

Wildlife Trainee with the Wild Oxford project



A group of people gathered outside the local pub at 4:30 in the morning might usually arouse suspicion. However, the seventeen early risers huddled quietly under the orange glare of the streetlights are not here to cause trouble, but to enjoy a Dawn Chorus Walk on nearby Cholsey Marsh led by local naturalist Paul Chandler (@OxonBirder) & BBOWT’s Mark Bradfield.

May and June are the peak times to enjoy the dawn chorus, when, as the day breaks, songbirds sing to defend their territories and attract a mate. Birds tend to join the chorus in a regular sequence and as we walk down Ferry Lane towards the river, blackbirds & robins are already in song, some forty minutes before sunrise. Perhaps the old saying is true, the early bird does catch the worm…

It is a chilly morning and mist drifts low over the grounds of Cholsey Meadows while a yellowhammer, with its distinctive call ‘a little bit of bread and no CHEESE’, makes its solitary presence known from a nearby hedgerow.

BBOWT’s Cholsey Marsh is situated on the River Thames some fourteen miles south of Oxford as the heron flies. Once common, riverside marshes such as this are now scarce because of large-scale drainage for farming. Here, the Marsh remains a haven for birds – over one hundred & fifty species have been recorded over the years, and fifty-five will make an appearance this morning.

dawn chorus walk

As the sun rises, the unmistakable call of a cuckoo drifts across the Marsh – since his arrival on 17 April he seems to be following a regular anti-clockwise circuit around the Marsh each morning. Today he is soon visible, high in the willows at the bottom of Lime Walk, and is soon being mobbed by chaffinches.

One of the reasons why songbirds choose to sing at this time of day is that they are less likely to attract predators in the pre-dawn gloom, however, this morning a sparrowhawk is glimpsed briefly disappearing into the willows - but it is not seen again.

Although they contribute little to the ‘chorus’, three common term are seen flying downriver, the first of the year, and I am pleased to see my guardian spirits of the Marsh put in an appearance, a grey heron crying ‘Krark!’ high above us, and a kingfisher, speeding low over the dark water.

Another good reason for singing at this time of day is that birdsong carries further in the still dawn air. At this time of year the dominant soundtrack of the Marsh is provided by the warblers: blackcap; whitethroat; the ‘chip-chap-chip-chap-chap-chup-chap-chap-chip’ of the chiffchaff; willow warbler; reed warbler, the explosive outbursts of the Cetti’s warbler; and – singing through the night – the rasping cascade of excited trills, warbles, whistles & clicks of the sedge warbler.

As we walk along I recite the names of the birds we have encountered to myself in rhythm with my footsteps, like an incantation or spell: magpie, jay, reed bunting, rook / goldcrest, blue tit, kestrel, coot / swallow, geat tit, swift & wren…

By 9am the sun is warm and skylarks in the neighbouring field turn our eyes skyward, away from the Marsh. As we stroll slowly back towards the village, our thoughts turning to breakfast - and in some instances a return to bed! - I don’t think there is one among us whose day has not been enriched by their encounters on the Marsh this morning.

So much wonder so close to home. There really is “wildness everywhere if we only stop in our tracks and look around us”.

Things to do

dawn at Cholsey Marsh

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