Nightingales in November by Mike Dilger

3.5 out of 5 stars

We don’t get many different species of birds in our garden, mostly sparrows, the odd blue tit, magpies, lots of pigeons and sometimes doves. I have seen herons on the house behind, and every now and again we glimpse goldfinches and we even had a pair of mallards once! It is a bit of a mix, but mostly we leave them to get on with it. Move away from the houses around and suddenly there are far more birds around, buzzards and the occasional kite wheeling overhead and magnificent swift scything through the air in the height of summer.

Some of what we consider our native birds are actually visitors. Some of them fly here for what we laughingly call our summer before heading vast distances to much warmer climes during our grey winters. In this book Dilger has selected twelve of our well-known birds, the Peregrine, the Blue Tit, Tawny Owl, Robin, Kingfisher as well as some of the summer and winter visitors that we have, the Waxwing, the Puffin, the Lapwing, Bewick’s Swan, the Swallow, the Cuckoo and the bird that the book is named after, the Nightingale.

Each chapter covers a month and each of the birds has a short essay telling us the sorts of things that they would be typically doing at that time of year. In January, we read about the Bewick’s Swan who are overwintering as it is much warmer than their summer haunt of the Siberian tundra. Kingfishers are keeping a low profile near the rivers and Tawny Owls starting to defend their territory. In the same month, thousands of miles away in South Africa the swallows flit catching insects around the big game.

By the middle of the year, the days are long, and most of the birds mentioned have bred and are carrying out the thankless task of feeding their young, the lapwings are fairly self-sufficient when they hatch, the kingfishers are just starting to force their first brood out to fend for themselves and the Puffin’s egg is still being incubated. The Peregrine’s chicks are just starting to flex their flight muscles and take to the air.

As the winter closes in the summer visitors will be long gone, the chicks of the cuckoos having managed to follow the parent they have never seen back to Africa, the blue tits are emptying the nuts from your feeder and the robin’s songs have returned and the nightingale is enjoying the warmth of tropical Senegal.

In all these multiple timelines are vast numbers of facts and details, stories and anecdotes about each of the birds and it makes for fascinating reading, especially about those that migrate and how the detective work has found their routes to and from the UK. I personally I would have preferred a separate timeline for each bird through their year, rather than month by month, as I would occasionally have flick back to see what they were up to in the previous chapter. That is only a minor thing though as otherwise, it is a good concept to show how each of these birds live their own separate and intertwined lives. I did love the little sketches of each bird and the beginning of each chapter/month.

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  1. Liz Dexter

    This sounds like a lovely one. I do enjoy the patterns of the birds around us in the wider environment and our cosy-seeming garden ones, thankfully unfazed by the massive building work going on next door to our house and their hedge and feeder.

    • Paul

      It is. I have just refilled our bird feeders in the past week or so, and have yet to see any on there yet. We don’t get that many species, most sparrows and pigeons, but it is good to see them.

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