With the option of spending part of my Bank Holiday weekend with family in Essex, I thought I'd dedicate myself to finally tracking down a Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos).
This legendary songster is now extremely rare in Warwickshire, so my chances of stumbling across one on home turf are pretty low. Fingringhoe in Essex, on the other hand, must surely be one of the UK's hottest hotspots, with 30-40 males singing there every April and May.
Knowing that the bird is an intensely shy skulker, the first precaution I took was to spend some time listening to an mp3 of its song, in order that I could pick it out when I heard it. The second precaution was to get up nice and early and arrive at Fingringhoe as soon as it opened - Nightingales, like most songbirds, are more vocal and visible at the start of the day.
So... did I find any? Well, I arrived to be told at the visitor centre that I was probably a week too late - not the best of starts. Then I wandered round for 20 minutes hearing nothing but Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Blackcap song, interspersed with more common resident species like Wren, Blackbird, Robin and Chaffinch.
And then I heard it. Wow. No danger of not recognising that then. It turns out that the Nightingale is a bit like opera - nice to hear a recording, but absolutely nothing like the experience of hearing it live. It is a spectacular liquid bubbling call, a call that stops you dead in your tracks the moment you hear it. As long as you're familiar with the other loud songsters (notably Song Thrush and Cetti's Warbler), there is no chance of mistaking it for anything else.
So I heard one. I heard four or five in fact. But seeing them was another matter all together. I scoured, searched, loitered, stared, scanned and squinted at bush after bush, but all in vain. Until finally, after 20 minutes spent stalking one particularly vocal specimen, I found him. On the plus side I got a great view, full length from beak to tail. On the downside, it lasted for perhaps a second before the bird dived back into cover.
So, success of sorts, enjoyable but limited. I'll definitely be coming back for more.
Bird of the day: Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos), a wonderful voice but not much of a looker (which reminds me, Britain's Got Talent is on in an hour).
ps. I clearly didn't have long enough to get a photo. This one is courtesy of Sergy Yeliseev on Flickr.