Otterlo, The Netherlands, 16 April 2014

18 April 2014 -  

The frost receded into the shadows on a cold, clear morning. Unusually, I saw the Woodlark before I heard it. A stocky,  short-tailed bird, shuffling, and running in the moorgrass, stopping frequently to peck insects from the ground before disappearing behind a clump of heather then flying up onto the low stump of a recently felled pine. Alovely close view of a rarely seen species; the striking, pale eyebrows, distinctive crest, heavily streaked upperparts, and black and white wing markings sharp in the early morning sunlight.

Then a second Woodlark began to sing. A beautiful, descending, liquid ‘Lulululululululu” floated down from the dazzling sky. I picked it up in the binoculars, and saw it flying at twice treetop height, a fluttering fragment of life, circling, dropping and rising on broad wings, singing the unhurried, repeated, sweet and melodious song. The first notes were quiet, hesitant even, then the volume increased and the melody descended, a series of pure, simple and languid notes sliding into one another with the quality of a yodel. Lulululululululu, the Latin name, Lullula arborea, is perfectly appropriate.

As the rising sun warmed the heath, more Woodlarks started to sing, the far-carrying quality of the song allowing four to be heard at once.  Chaffinches, Tree Pipits – newly arrived from Africa – and a solitary Skylark joined the chorus. Both lark species are more notable for their wonderful songs than their streaky brown appearance. The Skylark, also  fluttering at great height, hovered in one place, its song a high-spirited, incessant torrent of trilling, warbling and tweeting notes, delivered at great speed, but less musical and mellow than the Woodlark. Both species are much less common and widespread than they were, and to hear the two in song together is now a rare privilege.

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