Author: Rupert Masefield, Communications Officer, Eastern England Regional Office (EERO)

I don’t think I’d be courting controversy by saying that people have a mixed reaction to waking up early in the morning. In my household, this difference in individuals’ circadian rhythms can be the source of friction that threatens our otherwise harmonious coexistence. Some people, I have learned, don’t like to be woken up hours before they really need to be awake- especially not by someone who has been up for hours and whose enthusiastic incitements to ‘Get up, get up! Come on, let’s go!’ are, apparently, ‘annoying’.

Some things are worth getting up at the crack of dawn for though: early flights for that holiday you’ve been looking forward to for months; being the first in line for freshly baked bread on a Saturday morning; and, for me, the pleasure of listening to nature’s choir performing the dawn chorus. This, of course, is the medley of morning birdsong song that takes place every year as the breeding season gets underway and the male birds compete to claim and defend a territory and to attract a mate (in some species female birds sing too, sometimes together with their mate).

This morning, I’m sorry to say I didn’t have a flight to an exotic holiday destination to catch and the thought of my expanding waistline resolved me to keeping walking past the enticing aromas wafting from the bakery, but I did enjoy a memorable dawn chorus with a difference.

I have to admit, the earliest birds were up even earlier than I was, so I was in bed when the subdued, reedy song of a red-breasted robin drifted in through the still dark window. As the sky gradually lightened, the unmistakable melodic phrases of a blackbird turned the robin’s solo into a duet and it was time for me to get up.

Robin perched in garden trellis. Credit: Ray Kennedy (RSPB)

After leaving the house to the noisy chattering of the sparrow section of the orchestra, I headed through town and my dawn chorus took on a new aspect, as the sounds of birdsong mingled with the early morning sounds of human city-dwellers getting ready for the working day ahead.

There is something special, something uniquely satisfying, about being up and about town before the rest of the world emerges from its slumber to go about its business.  Walking through the park, the cooing of a woodpigeon and the flight call of a collared dove flapping by overhead were punctuated by a whirring drone and the sound of water jets spraying the pavement as a road sweeper passed by. Then, approaching the market, raucous shouting calls and laughter competed with the music blaring from a radio as the first stalls opened up and set out their pitches, in a curious analogy of the blackbird and the robin setting up shop to compete with their neighbours.

I realised that these human sights and sounds seemed to me to be a part of the same urban dawn chorus as the mournful cries of the black headed gulls I could now hear. The daily rhythms of our lives are governed by the 24 hour cycle of night and day (from which circadian rhythms get their name) as much as those of birds and (most) other living creatures. Suddenly I felt an intimate connection with the birds whose singing I had been enjoying as an observer- I was part of the dawn chorus myself.

As much as I love experiencing the dawn chorus in all its glory in the countryside, or on a nature reserve, where skylarks, lapwings and nightingales add their voices to the ensemble and the only manmade noise you can hear is the sound of your own footsteps, this was a dawn chorus with a difference I will remember.

You can experience the dawn chorus for yourself every morning from now until mid-summer. You need to be up before sunrise to enjoy the full performance.

RSPB Strumpshaw Fen’s Dawn Chorus Breakfast Walks: Sunday 24th April and Saturday 7th May, 6-8am

For more details including cost and booking, email, phone 01603 795191, or visit

Swallowtail butterfly caterpillar on fennel, RSPB Strumpshaw Fen.  Credit: Ben Andrew (RSPB)