If you walk outside well before sunrise, at first light, you will experience a special chorus of songs that we call the dawn chorus. Dawn is a time of day when most animals are quiet, that is, apart from the birds. In fact, in this respect the early morning belongs to birds. Spring is the best time to enjoy the dawn chorus as it is the breeding season for birds and the period when most of the song birds are establishing their territories.
In the Garden Route, the dawn chorus starts to pick up in July and by mid-August it is well developed with most resident birds taking part. It is in September that the dawn chorus really reaches its peak, the reason being that some birds that breed in the Garden Route migrate to the warmer areas of central Africa during winter.
This does not only include the swallows, but also most of the cuckoos, such as the red-chested cuckoo, better known as the “Piet-my-vrou”, the African emerald cuckoo, the black cuckoo, the Jacobin cuckoo and the Diderick cuckoo (“Diederikkie”). Cuckoos have especially loud and easily recognisable calls that signify the fact that spring is in the air. Another noteworthy migrant that also adds his song to the spring dawn chorus is the African paradise flycatcher.
In most cases, the first bird to initiate the dawn chorus (that is, in the Garden Route), is the olive thrush. At this time, the fiery-necked nightjar is still singing its songs, but it soon stops calling as the diurnal species start to wake up and one by one add their calls to the growing chorus. The olive thrush is followed shortly by the Cape robin-chat, one of South Africa’s favourite little garden birds, with its soft, but beautiful melody.
A challenge to you this spring is to get up early enough to spend time outside to listen to the birds and to really appreciate the dawn chorus.