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Walks

The Dawn Chorus experience in Oakley Wood

Spring in Britain’s woodlands is a wonderful opportunity to experience one of nature’s spectacular audio events, the dawn chorus. With Oakley Wood so close to Bishops Tachbrook my wife and I decided one morning to make the effort and head for the woods, we were not disappointed. Late April and sunrise is 5.30am, so an early start on a typically frosty morning for April 2021 got us to the woods a good 45 minutes before sunrise. Even though the sun has not risen the sky is starting to light up and the birds are merrily chirping away. This isn’t only an audio treat, photographers call this the ‘golden hour’ due to the fantastic lighting that the low sun creates, soft red illumination, long shadows and deep blue sky.

Spring heralds the breeding season for the birds and the early morning chorus is more than a communal sing song, it is the male bird trying to attract a mate and defending his territory. Dawn is an optimum time for the birds to sing, it’s hard for predators to see them and it’s too early to feed on flies and grubs.

Luckily just before we left I remembered to take some recording equipment to capture the choir. Embeded below are some of the sounds we experienced taken over the 1 hour we spent in the wood. As the dawn progresses, moving around the woods, different species of birds become more prominent .

Press the play button to listen to the pre sunrise chorus. As well as the birds there is a fox? Roe deer? bellowing.

Oakley Wood before sunrise
A chiff chaff leads the choir
At sunrise

I’m no bird expert so I had to rely on technology (AI) to identify the birds in the audio. The use of BirdNET and Audacity is described at the end of this post. Below is the list of definite hits I got but if anybody spots any other birds I would be pleased to know. I’m sure there is a great tit around.

Chiff Chaff
Nuthatch
Treecreeper
Jackdaw
Wren
Robin and or wood warbler

We then moved over the road into the field next to Wiggerland wood. The sun was rising, the sheep and lambs starting to bleat. The audio and pictures captured are shown below

Sun rising
Waking sheep
Sounds at Wiggerland Wood at sunrise
Lambs bleating at Wiggerland

Bird identification

To identify the birds in the recording I used a free program developed by Cornell University at this website, https://birdnet.cornell.edu/api/. This program uses AI technology that transforms the audio into a mathematical form and then compares it with a library of birdsong and finds the best match (very simple explanation) The technology also exists as an app so can be downloaded to a phone. The program then gives its best guess and a a score of its confidence as pictured below for the treecreeper

Almost by accident I used an old note book and a USB microphone (from guitar hero!). To improve the audio I used a free program called Audacity, https://www.audacityteam.org/ . You can load your audio file, mp3, wav, into this program amplify, improve and isolate any sound of interest then load into the birdnet program. For instance below is the audio plot of the chiff chaff. After a while of fishing for individual bird songs in the recordings your eye as well as your ears begins to recognise the patterns! I found this a great way to learn the calls of the birds and your ear quickly gets tuned in to the birdsong that is around us.

My notebook recorded in a format called m4a which audacity doesn’t like, so I used another free piece of software, Zamzar, https://www.zamzar.com/, which converts from one audio format to another.

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