LISTEN: Where is the best place in East Anglia to hear nightingales?
PUBLISHED: 17:51 04 May 2019 | UPDATED: 17:57 04 May 2019
At Essex Wildlife Trust's Fingringhoe Wick nature reserve a truly wonderful spectacle of nature takes place at this time of year
We stop in a clearing at Fingringhoe Wick as dusk falls and listen as the nightingales start to go through their repertoire of songs and sounds.
There is such a variety of reverberations that it's difficult to pinpoint the definitive nightingale song. One rattling sound, a musical pneumatic drill-like refrain stands out. For a bird of the British Isles, the assorted melodies are extremely exotic.
I am among a party of 15 or so nature enthusiasts who have come here just for this experience. As night closes in and the other birds fall silent, the stage is left for the best-known songsters of the lot to let rip.
Alex, the site ranger and our guide, tells us that it is the males who are singing their hearts out, as they aim to impress a mate. One bird will take his turn with an array of trills, whistles, gurgles and crescendos, before another male responds and 'embellishes' his reply - just a bit louder, a tad more elaborate. A third bird, or maybe the first one again, then counters with even more gusto...and so it goes on, a truly wonderful event of nature.
These humble looking birds have recently returned to East Anglia having completed their annual long-haul migration from Africa and will be serenading visitors to Fingringhoe Wick nature reserve for the next few weeks. The Trust says this is one of the best places in the country to hear these birds up close due to the accessible footpaths that take you throughout the site and the number of nightingales that settle here.
According to Alex, Fingringhoe is popular with nightingales through the sheer luck of its location. For returning birds hitting the Essex coast and making their way along the Colne estuary, the reserve is the first place that they encounter with the right kind of habitat.
Nightingales favour dense undergrowth with thorns, such as hawthorn, blackthorn and bramble, where they can nest only inches from the ground, relatively safe from predators. The on-going grubbing out of hedgerows and more recently the growing number of deer nibbling away at coppiced hedges, preventing dense growth, are two reasons why the nightingale population is in free-fall - their numbers crashing 91% between 1967 and 2007, according to the RSPB.
Last year, around 40 pairs were recorded at Fingringhoe - around 1% of the UK population - and because of Fingringhoe's popularity with nightingales, the Trust is holding a daily dusk walk around the reserve until mid-May with Alex as the host and mine of nightingale information.
Communications manager at the Essex Wildlife Trust, Emily McParland said: “There is nothing quite like the song of the nightingale – these birds know over 1,000 different notes and their repertoire is one of our country's most special wildlife experiences. These birds have suffered severe population declines but we're incredibly lucky to have a stronghold at Fingringhoe Wick nature reserve year on year.”
Essex Wildlife Trust's guided Nightingale Walks are taking place every day, 7.30pm-9pm, until Tuesday May 14.
Because of the popularity if the walk, early booking is advisable. Call 01206 729678 to book; a £7 donation per person is recommended.