I heard the first nightingale of the year on Wednesday. Other people say they have been around for a couple of weeks but they seem to arrive later and later chez nous in recent years. The unmistakable sliding, virtuoso sound emerging from the thicket on the other side of the wall heralded the arrival of yet another summer visitor.
Thou … singest of summer in full-throated ease (Keats)
I heard a nightingale for the first (and only time) in England in a small square in Oxford one summer evening. The bird was perched in a tree growing in the centre of the square. A group of people had gravitated to the sound and stood transfixed beneath the tree. The nightingale, oblivious to its audience, continued its throaty song. With regret, my companion and I had to leave after a few minutes.
I had to wait 20 years to hear the next one. We were in France, staying in a gîte by the River Aveyron while house hunting. In fact, tomorrow it will be17 years since we saw our house for the first time. We sat outside then, enjoying the dusk and watching the bright comet that was just a smudge in the London sky. The still air carried the liquid melody of the nightingales and it was all rather idyllic.
Here’s a rather good clip of a nightingale singing from YouTube.
Variable arrival date
Since then, the SF (statistics freak aka my husband), who records anything and everything, has recorded the nightingale’s annual arrival date since 2000. The earliest was 6th April in 2005 and 2011; the latest was 24th April in 2000. This year’s (23rd April) is definitely on the late side. Most often, it has arrived in mid-April, between 13th and 18th. The past few years, it has arrived at the latter end but there’s no discernible pattern apart from that.
We have noticed, though, that nightingales have been less numerous around us in recent years. We hope that this is not due to pesticide use and thus lack of food. This area is notable for cattle farming, not arable, but who knows how these things might work?
Mostly, you only hear nightingales (Luscinia megarhynchos or Common Nightingale). Sometimes we see one flitting about before settling in a thorn bush and tuning up. They are unexceptional birds to look at – a bit like a fly catcher and about the same colour – but their song more than makes up for their lack of colour. The RSPB says the most similar birds are redstarts and robins. I have been unable to get close enough to photograph a nightingale.
Nightingales are migratory, over-wintering in West Africa and spending the summer in Europe and parts of Asia. They appear in mid-south Sweden but must be at the very extremity of their range there. They normally nest in thickets, lay five eggs in late May and leave in late summer/early autumn.
Nightingale is ‘rossignol’ in French, which I think is a lovely name. You sometimes see lieux-dits called Rossignol, perhaps because they were the birds’ favourite haunts. Or maybe they were named after people who lived there, since Rossignol is also a surname – as is Nightingale in English.
The bird has also provided the inspiration for music and for numerous songs and poems, including Keats’ Ode quoted above.
You might also like:
Copyright © 2014 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved