This morning, as I usually do, I woke early. I went downstairs, opened the back door, and -not for the first time- sat my sound recorder on a garden wall, opposite the tall trees that stand behind our house.
This goes on for about three-quarters of an hour every morning. Jackdaws, Rooks, Carrion Crows. Crow City. I can’t get enough of it. With regard to intelligence, they say corvids are the “big apes” of the bird-world. If so, we are extraordinarily lucky to have this crowd living almost literally on our doorstep. People travel to remote parts of Africa to see big apes living in the wild. All we have to do to enjoy these critters is open the window and listen.
Konrad Lorenz wrote about Jackdaw behaviour in his book, King Solomon’s Ring. He identified “kia” as Jackdaw-speak for “fly away with me” and “kiaw” as “fly back home”. I’ve not read the book but I have read about it. Apparently all but one of his jackdaw colony were slaughtered by a mink. The survivor sat alone for a long time calling kiaw, kiaw.
Fellow-blogger Jenny Woolf, commented on my speculation that, as birds were descended from dinosaurs, perhaps dinosaurs sang like birds. She said perhaps their songs would have been at a very different pitch (what with dinosaurs being generally bigger than their feathered descendants) and that she’d never heard birdsong slowed down.
This seemed like an opportunity to, well, slow down some birdsong. I’ve entitled the resulting piece of sound art Dinosaur Dawn. I don’t know if this is what forests sounded like first thing in the morning 70 million years ago but you never know…
A recent post on the Transit Notes blog got me thinking about birds and birdsong. And, in a case of life imitating the blogosphere, it just so happens that something this morning woke me up unnaturally early. Half asleep, I staggered out of bed to see what was going on. On the landing, I was greeted by an excited cat and, somewhere in the air around my head, a flutter of wings. Sinbad had brought in a chaffinch. I seized the said Sinbad and shut him in the conservatory. I opened the landing window. Then I set about chasing the chaffinch. The sooner the poor thing could be set free into the sky the better. I finally caught it in the bathroom, cradling it gently in my hands. (If other members of the animal kingdom shared our intelligence I think they’d not know what to make of us: some of them we treat with extraordinary generosity and love, others we hunt down for no good reason and yet others we ship off in crowded lorries to abattoirs).
I was struck by just how small a creature a chaffinch is. It’s not often one actually holds one and one would prefer not to have to. The poor thing was so terrified that when I first held it out of the window, sat on my outstretched hand, it wouldn’t move. I withdrew my hand, cradling it as gently as I could, thinking, as I did, that if a 300-foot high giant held me in its hand however gently, I too would be terrified. I decided the best thing was simply to stretch out my hand a second time. This time it flew off.
The excitement of it all left me wide awake. I released Sinbad from his confinement. I turned on the laptop and made myself a cup of tea while it booted up. It felt like a good time to do the Guardian Quick Crossword. (It’s become something of an obsession with me. Not only is it a good crossword but also one where one can leave comments. The comments section has become something of an online community in its own right – the Quick Crossword Club, or QCC. But I digress).
Once I’d knocked off (OK, struggled a bit with) the crossword it occurred to me that if I took my sound recorder out into the garden I could capture the dawn chorus. I returned to the laptop and got bogged down in something or other online and returned some twenty minutes later. Here’s an excerpt…
Birds are intriguing. I find it intriguing that the descendants of the dinosaurs should sing. Intriguing, too, that their songs should be both complex and yet -as far as we know- lacking in any complex meaning, as we understand the word. The songs of birds should give us pause. We have a Hollywood-created idea of dinosaurs growling in a crude, carnivorous fashion, but did they sing, too?