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Up with the larks and Keith


The alarm went off at 4am and was promptly ignored, it was raining for the first time in weeks and it was very tempting to continue to ignore the drone of the radio. Up and after a hunt for waterproofs and binoculars I couldn't help noticing that my better half had gone back to sleep.

We arrived at the village hall fashionably late to be greeted by a remarkably keen Keith Gittens and a surprisingly large group of followers. It was now raining quite persistently as everyone listened carefully to the explanation of the early bird catching the dawn chorus. The rain drummed against my hood and we set off up the hill towards Beacon Bank through Debbie Green's immaculate but rather wet garden.

Despite the squelch of boots and drumming rain we were told to listen to specific bird calls as our feathered friends ignored the weather and sung. Sometimes we were lucky enough to catch a fleeting glimpse of a SBJ (small brown job) skulking in the undergrowth.

Up on the top of the bank the breeze became a wind that whipped away the song but as we strolled back down the lane towards Malton Street a cacophony of song greeted us. In the hedgerows lurked a remarkable variety of birds singing their hearts out and for brief moments we could catch a fleeting glimpse of the singers. The variety was impressive, from Whitethroats and Blackcaps to a dashing Swallow braving the elements.

Past Garbutts Ghyll we took the leafy lane back towards the Old Lodge and past the yellow field of oilseed to the sanctuary of the village hall and bacon butties.

All told we saw/heard 28! different species on a fairly murky and wet morning. Keith's knowledge of birds and their song was remarkable and although binoculars steamed up we still managed to see most of them.

Shortly afterwards the clouds parted and the sun shone in a perfect blue sky. 3 hours later I was being lured away from nests by Curlews, Pipits and Lapwings calling and flapping high on the moor above Hawnby.

If the prospect of an unfashionably early start doesn't appeal may I recommend sitting in your garden at the end of the day. Glass in hand you can sit back and listen to the Swifts and Swallows shrieking as they chase each other through the air as the evening chorus gently subsides and think how lucky we are to live in this haven of wildlife.

If this has whetted your appetite for some social twitching Keith is organising a rather exciting evening adventure up to Sutton Bank to see, if possible, the elusive Nightjars that spend summer in the cut down woods. A pub has been mentioned so it may not be too arduous an experience. Keep an eye out on the village web for the date.

Jan Janiurek