Tweet of the Day
The Natural History Unit Radio Office is always alive with a strange twittering; a buzz about birds, especially at this time of year when spring finally heaves itself out from under the blanket of winter and our feathered friends begin to sing to mark their territories and attract a mate. It starts with our resident species, birds like the Great Tit bellowing out “teacher, ,teacher, teacher,… “ the Blackbird (arguably the best songster in town) and the robin. Then we wait with eager anticipation (especially this year) for the migrant birds like the Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Blackcap and before you know it, there’s a babble of song it seems from every wood, hedge, tree and roof top aerial and the air is filled with sound.
Even though many of us wouldn’t describe ourselves as keen birdwatchers, twitchers or ornithologists, who doesn’t enjoy hearing birds in their garden? But don’t you often wish you knew who was singing? For centuries birds have been inspiring writers and musicians from Beethoven to Britten, Vivaldi to Vaughan Williams. After all, birds are composers; they were making music long before us.
So given that there are well over 500 species listed as British birds, our Natural History Radio team struck on the idea of a series which featured a different call or song on every day of the week, and Radio 4’s ‘Tweet of the Day’ was born.
In the first of a new series, David Attenborough introduces the cuckoo.
Brett Westwood, producer, presenter and naturalist extraordinaire set about the task of allocating our British birds, first to months in which we’re most likely hear them and then each bird to a day. Meanwhile I hauled bag after bag of recordings from the Natural History Unit sound library up several flights of stairs to my ‘eyrie’ office and listened to over 1000 recordings to see which we might use. Amongst them were wonderful old recordings by one of the pioneers of wildlife recording, Ludwig Koch, but there were also gaps … lots and lots of gaps! So we recruited a team of superb wildlife sound recordists; Gary Moore, Geoff Sample and Chris Watson and set them the task of capturing sounds for the series, (as well as raiding their own archives!).
David Attenborough presents the song and story of the nightingale.
Then Brett started writing the scripts. We wanted the programmes to be short – like a snatch of song - a tweet – just 90 seconds; opening with the song or call followed by a story about the bird. And there’s no shortage of stories; everything from fascinating ornithological facts to fanciful folklore, and from astounding feats of endurance to tales of theft and fraud.
David Attenborough presents the sound and story of the storm petrel.
Sir David Attenborough agreed to narrate the first month and everyone swung into action; microphones to the ready, the recordings began. We’re making this series as I write; the whole team is involved with the programmes and website, blogging and tweeting. So far from a mild twittering in the office, there’s a great orchestra of sound; as we capture the calls and songs of more than 260 British birds!
All imagery has been provided by the RSPB