I've been living in the Oxfordshire countryside now for 10 years, surrounded by woodland on one side and open fields the other. These, apparently, are perfect 'birding' conditions.
We have a resident pair of jays, owls, tits, wagtails, finches, woodpeckers (three types!), turtle doves, birds of prey and a plethora of robins and sparrows. We also have a stream running the length of the garden which last year brought us a kingfisher (so tiny!) and a pair of ducks with 12 ducklings. The mum then went on to lose half of them while on a stroll one day. Tardy!
I'm not a big fan of the winter months, mainly January and February, they seem to last an eternity so when Spring starts to appear and the birds start singing I feel like joining in! I don't even mind getting up at 6.30 am five days a week for the school run as long as it's light and I can hear that the birds are awake too.
I became interested in different bird calls a few years ago while sitting outside at night listening to tawny owls calling to one another - it really sounds like a long distance conversation from tree to tree. Each call varies slightly in volume, phrasing and urgency. The amount of times I've tried to creep up to whichever tree they're sitting in so I can take a peek only to realise it has departed - silently - probably looking down at me and laughing to itself. "Silly fool thinking she could get close enough to see me, ha ha ha. crazy lady!"
It's very quiet here so you can hear all the wildlife really clearly. There's a lot of rustling in the bushes when you're putting the rubbish out at night and it used to scare the hell out of me! I'm so used to it now and have become much better at identifying the sounds of all the different birds and creatures in the garden along with the village weirdo! I noticed a while back that a great tit sounds very much like a car alarm and so decided to liken as many bird calls to other memorable things as I could to help me identify them in the future. A blue tit sounds like super high pitched drum and bass and there's something about pheasants that makes me think of Lady Ga Ga!
The sound of wood pigeons has depressed me since I was at school. It's a Sunday night, I haven't done my homework AGAIN, and it's the most melancholy sound in the world! A turtle dove call on the other hand, although similar, is a jolly sound, not remotely depressing.
Two pairs of red kites were re introduced down the road in the 80's having previously been totally wiped out in this country. There are tons of them now! Huge, beautiful, majestic birds of prey with an eerie, mournful screech that sends our poor rabbit Cookie running for cover. I don't think a kite could actually take him, he's far too fat and I think they live mainly on carrion, but he's definitely nervous when they circle overhead.
When it comes to singing, my favourite bird is not necessarily the most popular, sometimes a little over looked and not often considered the most beautiful. You could say it is the Florence Ballard of the UK bird world. The blackbird, with its sleek, shiny black feathers and perfect, bright yellow beak has the most beautiful voice of them all, so intricate and soulful, a song to brighten up the greyest day.
You know what, I'm new to this game and can't pretend I know much - yet! But what I would say is don't leave it as long as I did to start paying attention to what is all around you. Whether you live in a city, town or the countryside the birds are singing for us.
Sarah Cracknell's solo album Red Kite is out on 15 June on Cherry Red.