Highlights from the ‘International Dawn Chorus 2019’ radio broadcast
Earlier this summer, our Irish partner BirdWatch Ireland had the great honour of co-producing the biggest and most ambitious live natural history radio broadcast ever made – the International Dawn Chorus Day. Niall Hatch who took part in the broadcast, shares his highlights from the day.
The Dawn Chorus, a live seven-hour celebration of birdsong, has been an annual fixture in the calendar of Irish state broadcaster Raidió Telefís Éireann (RTÉ) for over 20 years, and BirdWatch Ireland has been involved from the very beginning. Four years ago the programme went international; since then, with the help of the European Broadcasting Union (the organisation responsible for the Eurovision Song Contest), it has rapidly become much, much larger. This year’s programme, which aired on Sunday 5th May, was carried live by more than 400 radio stations across the world, with a truly staggering audience of half a billion people. That is not a typo!
The true reason for the programme’s international success is the BirdLife International Partnership. Tasked four years ago by RTÉ and the EBU with finding passionate ornithological and conservation experts across the world, BirdWatch Ireland knew exactly where to turn. The BirdLife family responded with overwhelming positivity, showcasing the expertise, passion and dedication that makes our partnership so unique.
Home base this year was BirdWatch Ireland’s Cuskinny Marsh Nature Reserve in County Cork, on the southwest coast of Ireland, from where the main presentation team of RTÉ’s Derek Mooney, ornithologist Dr. Richard Collins and BirdWatch Ireland’s Niall Hatch took listeners on an aural journey, as the great wave of birdsong gradually moved from east to west with the rising sun. It was, quite literally, the sound of our planet turning on its axis.
First port of call was Australia, and an opportunity for listeners to hear the magical sounds of Red-tailed Black-cockatoo Calyptorhynchus banksii, Pied Butcherbird Cracticus nigrogularis and Superb Lyrebird Menura novaehollandiae.
Next it was India’s time to shine. Indian Nightjar Caprimulgus asiaticus, Oriental Magpie-robin Copsychus saularis and Asian Koel Eudynamys scolopaceus were the leads amongst a stellar cast. Chasing the dawn, the chorus soon crossed Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, where BirdLife Partners ACKB and AOS were standing by to share their knowledge.
From Bahrain, listeners were brought the sweet song of the White-eared Bulbul Pycnonotus leucotis and the work of the Bahrain Natural History Society, then shortly afterwards they learned of the monitoring work carried out by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, live from Jerusalem.
Halfway through the programme, Europe sprang to life. Jan Södersved, BirdLife Finland’s Communications Officer, broadcast the unforgettable sounds of the Thrush Nightingale Luscinia luscinia, while Jaroslaw Krogulec, Head of Conservation with Polish BirdLife Partner OTOP, brought us another first: the song of the Aquatic Warbler Acrocephalus paludicola, one of OTOP’s flagship conservation species. BirdLife’s Spring Alive project was also received prominent mention.
Heading south, it Cyprus’ turn in the spotlight. BirdLife Cyprus Monitoring & Research Coordinator Christina Ieronymidou was at Akrotiri Marsh to bring us the songs of Black Francolin Francolinus francolinus and Spur-winged Lapwing Vanellus spinosus, as well as BirdLife’s Flight for Survival campaign, highlighting the illegal killing of migratory birds to a massive international audience.
Then we went further south again for the programme’s first ever foray into Africa. Nature Kenya’s Ireene Rose Madindou was on hand to share her own favourite birdsongs with listeners, championing Malachite Kingfisher Corythornis cristatus, Amethyst Sunbird Chalcomitra amethystina and Common Bulbul Pycnonotus barbatus.
Italian Sparrow Passer italiae was another first for the programme, as was the rich dawn chorus of Portugal, brought to us by SPEA’s Executive Director Domingos Leitão. Then it was time for the world-class double-act of the BBC and RSPB in the UK, with no fewer than four participating stations: BBC Radio Scotland, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Ulster (from Northern Ireland) and BBC Radio Cambridgeshire.
Finally, last but not least, came Ireland, as BirdWatch Ireland experts and RTÉ presenters in no fewer than 10 locations broadcast a gorgeous dawn chorus to the world. Conditions were perfect, and the Eurasian Blackbirds Turdus merula, European Robins Erithacus rubecula, Goldcrests Regulus regulus, Eurasian Wrens Troglodytes troglodytes, Sedge Warblers Acrocephalus schoenobaenus, Razorbills Alca torda, Common Murres Uria aalge, Black-legged Kittiwakes Rissa tridactyla, Corncrakes Crex crex, Common Chaffinches Fringilla coelebs and Eurasian Blackcaps Sylvia atricapilla did not disappoint.
Like so much of the natural world, we tend to take the dawn chorus for granted. If you listened to our unique international celebration, and heard for yourself how something as simple, yet as powerful, as birdsong can transcend borders and bring people together in a shared experience and with a common purpose, I trust you will never take it for granted again. It showed half a billion people the power of birds, the importance of passion and, above all, the strength of partnership.
To hear the programme for yourself, visit www.rte.ie/mooney.
Public Relations, Branches & Development Officer