Tuesday, 10 May 2016


I’d heard my first nightingale even before I reached the car park at Fingringhoe Wick, one of Essex Wildlife Trust’s nature reserves, near Colchester. There’s no entrance fee, just a £2 optional donation; I paid up, got a little map of the reserve and had a wander.

I was halfway to Laurie’s Hide when another nightingale started to sing. Nightingales don’t sing from the top of a tree, like a mistle thrush or a yellowhammer; they sing from the middle of dense scrubland. Despite that, the bird was able to project its song with incredible power, effortlessly dominating the scratchy song of a whitethroat and a flock of bickering gulls on the estuary. It stopped me in my tracks.

The song is complex, full of stops and starts. Breathy notes, barely audible, are followed by loud trills and crescendos, which seem to come from more than one source simultaneously. It fills the air and feels like a concert, a performance, an event; no wonder the poets rhapsodise.

Fingringhoe Wick is my kind of reserve: lots of different habitats - heath, scrub, woodland, saltmarsh and small freshwater lakes - in a compact area. A web of paths - between impenetrable patches of scrubland - makes it easy to explore the reserve ( but without the map I would have got lost). There are hides overlooking patches of water (including one that was more like a conservatory, with a big ‘picture window and a row of armchairs!). One of the hides is called the Nightingale Hide, though I heard nightingales all over the reserve. Anyway, nightingales are elusive rather than shy. I stood maybe six feet away from a singing male, with my presence doing nothing to disturb it.

Though I didn’t actually see or hear a lot of species, I lost myself in the woods, listening to whitethroats, blackcaps, sedge warblers, jays and woodpeckers. I saw people sitting on benches, captivated by birdsong. It was a magical morning. I watched a pair of coots on the water, ‘running’ across the surface in pursuit of each other: a mating ritual, I imagine. Little grebes - dabchicks - dived every few seconds; they could ‘scoot’ across the water, at speed, like some wind-up bath toy! I’ll call in again, in a couple of days, to hear the nightingales sing at dusk, when most of the other birds have stopped.

Listen to a nightingale...

Fingringhoe Wick...

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