Dawn chorus and the Reveil broadcast

Since 2015, myself and a range of collaborators, including Taavi Suisalu and Veljo Runnel, have been contributing to the Reveil 24+1 hour broadcast. This involves getting up early to set up a pair of microphones outdoors and sending the live audio signal to a crew of dedicated people in London who mix and retransmit live streams from around the globe. What makes this live transmission unique is that it is entirely focused on the natural ‘dawn chorus‘ phenomenon. In short, the dawn chorus is the time when song birds start singing in the pre-dawn time roughly one hour before the sunrise. The impetus for this event is International Dawn Chorus day which has been celebrated on the first Sunday of May since 1984. My own interest in the dawn chorus started a number of years earlier, not long after I moved to Estonia while starting to embrace the surrounding environments and what happens during the extended daylight hours that come after the spring equinox. By this time of year many of the migrating birds have started to arrive, and whether they nest or pass through, most have started their annual territorial and mating rituals, much of which involve a variety of songs and calls. Soundscape specialist Bernie Krause calls the dawn chorus; These biophonic moments of perfection are sonic executions of fulfillment – the natural world’s momentary expression of the highest possible order.

dawn chorus estonia
pre-dawn light on the Kärmase pond in Kooraste

I wanted to share a few of the dawn chorus recordings I have made, which have occurred during the Reveil broadcast. The first one is the most recent, from May 1st 2022. The location of our ‘sound camp’ was the Kiidjärve-Kooraste recreation area in Põlva county south Estonia. I left a portable recording rig by the nearby lake where we hear a number of bird species including, Eurasian Bittern, Common Snipe, Swans, Robins and many others (I’m still very much an amateur when it comes to bird identification).

May 1st, 2022 Kooraste Estonia
Remote audio streaming setup in the Varessaare forest cabin (2021)

The second recording was made on May 2nd, 2021 just outside the Varessaare forest hut in Alutaguse National park in northeast Estonia. It is the raw capture from the live stream. This location was one of the more remote locations we have sent the stream from. To get to the cabin we had to hike roughly 2km from the forest road through shallow wetlands due to the spring melting season. Nevertheless we managed to access the site and transmit a reasonably good signal. Despite the forested view through the window there was a large bog just 50m through the trees.

May 2nd, 2021 Varessaare Estonia
The peat bog beyond with setting half moon

This last recording was made during the first Reveil broadcast we contributed to in the spring of 2015. Our ‘soundcamp’ took place at the Palupõhja Nature school in the Alam-Pedja nature reserve in central Estonia. The location was a tiny remote village on the shore of the Emajõgi river in the middle of the reserve. I clearly remember there was a blackbird who sang all night outside the cabin where we stayed. For this stream we ran a set of long cables into the forest behind the cabin.

May 2nd, 2015 Palupõhja Estonia
Dawn Scarfe from Soundtent and Veljo Runnel stream from the cabin at Palupõhja

Each year I look forward to this time, to immerse myself in the other-than-human world that exists beyond our familiar own. This year I realised the importance of the need to approach the dawn chorus as an act in ritual listening, to acknowledge the annual cycles and the transition periods between seasons. Listening in this context allows for relational bonds to be formed as an example of how the sonic aspects of biodiversity function in the living biosphere. The recordings and images of course do not to this complexity justice but they do offer a reminder and allow us to return to these moments at other times and locations. With that said, this is a clear invitation for you to crawl out of bed in the early hours to listen for yourself.

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