One of my students complained today about the dawn chorus. Not so much a complaint, in fact, as a lament – she had been woken up before five o’clock the last two mornings by the birds on Parker’s Piece, opposite her apartment. She wanted to know why they were singing, without really wanting to know at all.
The dawn chorus begins very early in England at the time of year, sometimes as early as four o’clock, and there is a distinct order of birds – the blackbird is almost always the first to sing, followed by the robin and the wren. For some reason the song thrush, a close relative of the blackbird and the robin, is a (comparatively) late riser.
You will hear blackbirds and robins in virtually any urban environment, but Cambridge is a more rural town than most. It still has extensive tracts of common grazing land running through (or very near) the centre of town – Stourbridge Common, Coldham’s Common and Midsummer Common for instance – on all of which cows are regularly grazed (inconveniently, if you happen to be behind them as they cross from one part of the common to another). A herd of Red Poll cows on Midsummer Common is, incidentally, an excellent local source of meat, supplied by CamCattle (I can vouch for its quality).
I have also regularly seen kingfishers, heron and cormorants on my way to work, straying in from the countryside that fringes the town. I didn’t point out the full extent of these rural delights to my drowsy student, however. I merely recommended earplugs.