Birdsong made a big impression on me earlier this year, so I’ve wanted to get acquainted with the feathery neighbours ever since. As soon as the opportunity turned up, Silvia and I attended the Guided Dawn Chorus at Tommy Earley’s farm.

Those who catch the worm

The walk started at 4.30 in the morning on 1st May, when it was still pitch-dark. It coincided with Bealtaine festival and there is a custom on this day to put mayflowers on a doorstep of a home to ward off evil. The flowers have to be collected before dawn, so some of the participants seized this chance to follow this lovely tradition (and this was the way I learnt about it).

At the beginning we were surrounded by total silence. The first bird to wake up was a cuckoo, which didn’t really need an introduction. It sang its solo accompanied only by awed whispers of our party: “Oh isn’t it gorgeous?” As the day broke, we literally pricked up our ears to catch every distant sound or little rustle. Then a blackbird tuned in, and some minutes later a robin replied. With sleepy chirps here and there, we even caught a glimpse of a curlew song. Speaking of which, as you might already know, the population of curlews in Ireland is at its lowest point with just around 150 pairs across the country. During the guided walk we found out that Leitrim played a crucial role in conservation of the curlew population, with 11 pairs of curlews nesting around the county.

The land of Nod inside the moth trap

As the walk continued we could distinguish songs of a willow warbler, a grasshopper warbler, a heron, a blue tit, and a chaffinch among many others. It was a wonderful experience to go through the woods filled with songs of no less than orchestral loudness. However, as the morning grew, the chorus got quieter. Birds stayed hidden in the bushes all around us, so they would sing the same lively melodies the next morning.

More than a birdsong

As an early bird myself, I thoroughly enjoyed this experience. Other than identifying native Irish birds, this walk also touched on the topic of the balance in the environment. For instance, the participants worried about no swallows returning to Ireland this year. However, we at the volunteer house were unaware of this matter, because we had quite a number of cheerful swallows flying around our residential area for a while.

But it wasn’t only about the birds: Tommy Earley shared information about his work on bog restoration along the way. At the conclusion of the walk Tommy also demonstrated his moth trap to the group, which is usually used for gathering moths and exploring their biodiversity in the area. Its light had attracted the moths during the night, so in the morning it was possible to observe different species. While we went on with our dailty routines, the moths would rest on the cartons throughout the day and fly away in the evening. Moths are indicator species of a healthy ecosystem, so observing a variety of them is great news!

May is a wonderful month to hear dawn chorus at its loudest. The guided tours are organised all across Ireland and they can be a lovely occasion to celebrate the richness of the nature!

Written by Tatsiana Lohinava