Over the last couple of weeks there's been a marked increase in the volume and diversity of bird song across Wharfedale. It is as if the lengthening days have switched on nature's seasonal soundtrack.

Although day-time temperatures have struggled to reach much above freezing, our birdlife is already anticipating the warmer days of spring and some hardy individuals are already building their nests. February can be the month when nestlings take their first breath of Yorkshire air, and I remember one Valentine's Day being surprised to stumble across a female blackbird feeding four young keeping cosy in a moss-lined nest, low down in a hedgerow.

Many birds are busy establishing the all-important territories that they will need to attract a mate and secure the best foraging areas. As you go about your daily business you can ‘filter in’ the wonderful spectacle of bird song by trying to pick out how many different species are vocalising as you head out to your car, make your way to the supermarket or take your dog for a walk. If you fancy a musical challenge you can even try to learn the characteristic songs of our most common birds by investing in a specialised CD, or visiting the excellent ‘Bird Guide’ section of the RSPB website, where you can hear recordings of their vocalisations for free.

The pleasing notes of blackbirds and robins are the most commonly heard vocalisations in our neighbourhood. The blackbirds are at their most vocal just after dawn, their strident, fluty songs penetrating closed windows to provide a natural alarm clock for those indoors.

If you head outside, the richness of the blackbirds' song becomes clear, and it is not uncommon to find three or four males competing against each other from rooftop song perches.

Although our local robins sing chiefly during the day, they also continue their vocalizations into the night – often stimulated by the proximity of street lights.

Their songs are less fluty and more wistful than those of the blackbird, and the species frequently sings all year round, with peak song activity in the spring. Males are notoriously territorial and have even been known to attack stuffed robins introduced into their territory.

Less impressive singers are the collared doves that have become such widespread garden birds in Britain following their colonisation of the country in the 1950s.

Their incessant, dreary 'coos' are a real contrast to the musical variety provided by blackbirds and robins.

by Brin Best, Wharfedale Naturalists' Society