In a previous post, I mentioned how the midday hoot of a tawny owl – and my thwarted attempts to see him – had driven me nuts. But that was nothing … nothing … compared to the song of a certain bird which has sent me doolally. This unidentified bird sings a simple refrain, over and over (and over) again but however hard I tried, I couldn’t see the pesky culprit. I checked birdsong audio files on the websites of the RSPB and BTO to no avail. I told Jim about it but he couldn’t hear the song – even when I could – and only shook his head, looked at me sadly and gently suggested it existed only in my head. I clenched my teeth but feared he might be right. Then, one morning, Jim DID hear it.
But, his ID suggestion that it was the beep-beep of the Road Runner was unhelpful and met with stony silence and a hard stare.
I needed proper help – Jim – and after a quick search online, I found a phone app called BirdUp. I love BirdUp. BirdUp is free.* Hoo. It is ad-free. Rah. And it does what it says it does. Hoorah.
The app identifies and records birdsong. I tap the icon, point my phone’s microphone at a particular birdsong and, very often, it tells me which species is singing. Brilliance. But … it only works for a selection of British birds; doesn’t like background noise (planes, trains, automobiles and the like); nor a strong breeze blowing across the mic. Neither can it cope with a chorus of different birds singing at once. Even so, it has identified several common birds by song alone. How clever is that?
Last week, I was sitting beneath a conifer and BirdUp told me that a high-pitched song above my head was that of a goldcrest. The app has various built-in, playable bird songs and calls. I played the goldcrest pre-record and within seconds a hitherto invisible, but now indignant, goldcrest appeared to see off the virtual intruder.
I did the same with a hidden robin – who promptly showed himself too. (I stopped at that point. Birds have quite enough to do at this time of year without teasing from imagined rivals).
But I still didn’t know the singer of that infuriating refrain. I began to suspect a male blackbird but neither BirdUp nor various websites had recordings of the notes I could hear. I read up about blackbirds and learnt that they are great mimics: copying common sounds, such as car alarms or phone ring-tones – and a penny clunked to the bottom of an otherwise empty tin. And then, reader, I saw him. Sitting high up in a tree, a male blackbird singing that bloody song. And he isn’t alone: there is at least one, perhaps two or three others, singing from the same sheet across the garden. Using the app, I recorded the song and, to share my pain and give you a taste of how repetitive it is, I’ve looped it several times. Here it is:
It is pretty enough but after you’ve heard it for hours on end, all day long, the charm wanes. Jim and I still laugh about it … through increasingly fixed grins … though we still don’t know what sound the blackbirds are copying. Do you?
(I wasn’t asked to review this app. I just really like it. BirdUp by Jon Burn is available at Google Play but, as far as I can tell, not on iTunes).
*As of February 2017, BirdUp is no longer free.