the nightingales of shapwick heath
Today is International Dawn Chorus Day. During the recent lockdown many people found themselves with more time to connect to nature and many said they felt that birdsong was louder than it had been before. In this post, Tom Tookey introduces us to his local nature reserve in Somerset and the uplifting recordings he has made of the Nightingales there.
'Shapwick Heath National Nature Reserve (NNR) lies at the centre of the Avalon Marshes, a wetland landscape that forms part of the Somerset Levels and Moors. The reserve is a patchwork of habitats that support a diverse range of plants and animals. It’s also known for the Sweet Track, a neolithic timber walkway preserved in the peat and discovered in 1970.
Historically, the soundscape of Shapwick has been enriched by spring visits from nightingales. I first heard them in the 1990s whilst visiting with my father and immediately wanted to make recordings. Early efforts involved a makeshift parabolic reflector fashioned from a kitchen mixing bowl - I still have the results on cassette tape!
For many years after that I didn’t hear a nightingale in the UK. Then, in late April 2019 whilst cycling through Shapwick, I was excited to hear the song again. A few nights later, loaded with coffee and spare layers, I rode out to the reserve with my audio equipment. On arrival, I was greeted by a nightingale in full song. He was accompanied initially only by distant reed warblers, booming bitterns and the occasional hoots from tawny owls, but as dawn drew near, more birds joined the chorus. You can listen to an excerpt here:
British Trust for Ornithology figures show a rapid fall in UK nightingale numbers since the 1960s. The causes are not yet fully understood but changes to the habitats of their nesting sites and African wintering grounds are thought to be playing a large part.
I’m always keen to discover more environmental sensitive ways of living and consuming. Good quality kit that lasts well is important so I was really pleased to find Silverstick. Time I spend on the reserves with audio and photography projects, as well as working with a conservation group is hard going on clothes but my Silverstick tees are proving really durable. The fabric and fit are also fantastic.'