Vesak Dawn Chorus

Arising in the night for a ‘Dawn Chorus Walk and Listen’.

3.45am and the Vesak Full Moon was strong, white and bright streaming through the window. Vesak, Wesak or Buddha Day is celebrated annually on the full moon of the ancient lunar month of Vesakha, this year on the night of May 3rd through to 4th – a lunar moment celebrating the birth of Siddhattha Gotama, his Enlightenment, and his final ‘passing’ at the age of 80. Buddhist scriptures relate that each of these three significant events occurred on a full moon of the Indian lunar month of Vesakha.  All three in one.

So ‘death is not the end of life’, and it doesn’t feel like it is cycling through the streets of Twickenham at 4.20am. Fox crossing the street; eyes, pause, look, wait, go.  Street lights, a car or two, light cloud moving across the sky and the light moon. The animal and bird world is having its moment as most humans are inside, horizontal, lights out.  A song thrush, with that clear bright phrasing at the end of the road, in the tree in the Pleasure Garden.

Most of the trees I move past have a robin singing in them. I’ve never heard them like this before. This familiar street is dense with traffic and noise in the day, but is now being redefined and mapped in my mind and my body with the birds at the centre of the space I’m moving through.  I’m ‘seeing’ the street differently, my listening ears enabling me to see the arrangements of the singing birds as the primary shape of this street, like notes on a stave; I can ‘see’ the birds through their song in this night moment. ‘Civil dawn’ has not yet begun, but the birds have.

I helped organise this ‘Walk and Listen’ at Orleans House Grounds by Twickenham Riverside for 10 people as part of a local event connecting people with nature and biodiversity, which happened to coincide with International Dawn Chorus Day. There’s something magic about people emerging out of the darkness along the street to listen together – a small flock.

Coming down Orleans Road towards the riverside, a Song Thrush dawn song (in amongst the Robins).  And bats circling above the houses, their last moves of the night. This crossover moment, this civil dawn.

Recently I’ve been

Recently I’ve been helping to record sightings of Song Thrushes in the locality, and my ears are now searching for their song in the mornings and evenings. Once you have something you’re listening out for, your ears search it out, aerials. And when I hear those distinctive, repeating phrases, that sharp brightness that just reaches out beyond other birdsong, I orientate around and towards them, aural magnetism.

Rebirth. Death and rebirth. Cycling through matter.

Lay down. Lay my head on the ground. The damp thick musk earth. Vivid grass.  Spring hawthorn. Life forces. Arising.  All three in one. This wondrous time where things grow an inch a day, leaves appear overnight, the Solomon’s Seal extends its flying leaves and drops bells in a day. Ringing.

We meet at 4.45am and walk around the wooded garden, through the chest high cow parsley paths to listen, single out melodies and tones, learn, absorb. I resist the ‘birders’ desire to list, categorise, territorialise these space-creating songs. Yet being able to identify the Wren, the Blackcap, the Robin in the chorus without actually seeing them, feels like being able to visualise the instruments of an orchestra once you know what they look like.  The wooded garden becomes an aural sphere – wherever we move or turn, we are inside sound, and through the songs I can ‘see’ the birds that are near to me and way off in the distance.

my dawn chorus bird map

the identifcation bird chart I made for the walk

By 6.30am, the day feels ordinary again. The Chorus was rich and full, only lasting in intensity for half an hour or so.

We disperse. The sun comes out.


  1. Wonderful, Sue, to hear and read of civic song. The morning birdsong here in these woods keeps me alive.

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