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A real tweet treat for early birds; W OUR W RLD Sponsored by Hilltop Garden Centre With spring in full swing, now is the ideal time to hear the dawn chorus. Neil Wyatt tells MARY GRIFFIN why it's worth a 4am start.

Byline: MARY GRIFFIN

IT'S nature's daily celebration of its own existence," says Neil Wyatt.

Neil, chief executive of Birmingham and Black Country Wildlife Trust, is perfectly placed to explain the dawn chorus because it was his organisation that launched a worldwide celebration of the phenomenon.

Celebrated every May, International Dawn Chorus Day encourages bird lovers and absolute beginners to make an early rise and hear our feathered friends launch a symphony of tweets.

"The birds are greeting the dawn," says Neil.

"Each one of them is marking their place and reminding the others of who they are, where they are and what they're doing.

"This is the time when they are beginning to nest build and starting to breed.

"One of the purposes of the dawn chorus is to attract mates, but in particular it's about marking territories and defending them with song rather than having to defend them physically by battling with other birds.

"And it's a great display that these birds have energy to spare. If you've ever tried singing your way through a Hallelujah you'll know it takes a lot of effort.

"So the dawn chorus is a really good demonstration of fitness. It's all very Darwinian."

This year's International Dawn Chorus Day saw more than 100 events held in Britain alone with more across the world from the heart of Birmingham to Colorado's Evergreen Lake, and from the glens of Scotland to sun soaked Tenerife.

And it's not too late to get out and hear your local dawn chorus.

"You get the owls hooting first and it gradually builds," says Neil.

"Blackbirds and robins are quite recognisable early on, as well as pigeons. Then there are wrens, bluetits tend to come in the middle and, later on, finches."

Neil recommends any urban park as an ideal listening spot. "It's a part of the day we never see," he says.

"Most of us see it get dark every night but it's amazing how many of us have never taken the time to get up early in the spring to see the sunrise.

"Trees and bushes are what you need - and a reasonably quiet location to be able to hear it well.

"It's worth the effort to get out by 4 or 4.30am while it's still dark so you can hear it begin.

"And by 5 or 6am it's going hammer and tongs."

International Dawn Chorus Day first began 26 years ago when environmentalist and broadcaster Chris Baines decided he wanted an early morning party to mark his 40th birthday.

Chris, a former Country-file and Gardeners' World presenter, was one of a group of Midlands environmentalists who cofounded the Urban Wildlife Group in 1980 (which is now the Birmingham and Black Country Wildlife Trust), sparking a national and international movement to create urban conservation groups.

For his birthday celebrations friends made their way to his Birmingham back garden while others around the country and the world made an early start to share the experience across borders.

He says: "About 30 good friends got out of bed to get to my house for a 5am Champagne breakfast.

"Since then I've been all over the world on International Dawn Chorus Day - Amsterdam, America, Golan Heights in Israel - and always make sure I listen."

The party was so successful that the Wildlife Trust, where Mr Baines is vice president, decided to create an annual event officially launched in 1997, including guided dawn chorus walks for members of the public.

"There's a sense that this is a really powerful natural phenomenon that's free to access and really inspires people," says Chris.

"It provokes a sense that all's well with the world, when out of the dark silence comes that first song and within 20 minutes everything in the neighbourhood is singing.

"That gets to people in a very powerful way."

He adds: "In the UK, in leafy suburban Britain, most of the birds in our gardens are woodland songbirds so the dawn chorus is really beautiful. "A lot of people assume that to really experience nature you have to get far out into the countryside.

"But the surprise is that the best dawn chorus is the one in urban areas where you've got a mature urban forest with each garden making a glade which is absolutely perfect for most songbirds.

"In this case the wildlife on the doorstep is far better than on a nature reserve because there are far more ponds and hedgerows in urban Birmingham or Coventry than there are in rural Warwickshire.

"And that's what Birmingham and the Black Country have given the world.

"We started the very first urban wildlife group and that has now spread worldwide, with people all over the world appreciating how crucial our urban areas are for wildlife."

STEVEN Cheshire, reserves manager at Warwickshire Wildlife Trust, reveals the best places in and around Coventry to hear the dawn chorus.

URBAN PARKS: Any park with mature trees should bring a chorus of blackbird and song thrush. Take an early morning trip to War Memorial Park or Longford Park.

WOODLAND: Here you'll hopefully hear blackcaps and warblers, too. Try Ryton Wood, Clowes Wood in Solihull or Crackley Wood in Kenilworth.

GRASSLAND: Smaller birds, like the chaffinch, will join in the chorus. Try Brandon Marsh, Ufton Fields near Southam or along the Swift Valley, near Rugby.

AT HOME: Leave your bedroom window open at night and you'll be woken in the morning by blackbirds - whether you like it or not!

CAPTION(S):

Neil Wyatt is keeping his eyes out for the dawn chorus.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:May 22, 2013
Words:927
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