Dawn Chorus 2017

Back from the Brink is a one-hour programme that plans to celebrate the hard work, dedication, and commitment of conservationists who are striving to save endangered species from extinction. Here, Derek Mooney discusses this unique, pan-European natural history event.

I've been working in natural history broadcasting for over 30 years now. In that time, I’ve seen some truly wonderful sights, but I’ve also seen first-hand the problems that wildlife is facing, both in Ireland and around the globe. There has been a growing awareness amongst the general public, particularly in the last few years, of the threats to our environment and biodiversity.

In many ways, this has been long overdue, but I’m also aware that for a lot of people the current state of our planet can seem overwhelming, even depressing. We are increasingly bombarded by tales of doom and gloom. Issues like climate change and animal extinction are too often made to seem insurmountable, as though tragedy is a foregone conclusion, but that’s simply not true. It’s not too late to help nature. 

We need to find a way to bring some much-needed optimism back into the conservation. That’s definitely what attracted me most to Back from the Brink. Through my work over the years on Mooney Goes Wild, in particular, I have met thousands of dedicated scientists and conservationists out there, fighting hard to save endangered species and working miracles. By telling some of their stories, I thought we could inspire people and show that there is every reason for hope.

Nature is resilient, and if given a chance it can recover from all sorts of abuse. It was once thought that the Red Kite, a stunning bird of prey, was lost forever from Irish skies, shot and poisoned to extinction. To see dozens of them now flying over the Co. Wicklow countryside again, all thanks to the dedication of people who simply weren’t prepared to give up, was a humbling and inspirational experience.

The same goes for the enormous efforts that I witnessed to safeguard the growing populations of Wolves in Italy, Brown Bears in Spain and Eurasian Beavers in The Netherlands, to give a few key examples from the programme. Perhaps the most sobering part for me personally was seeing the dramatic effects that climate change has wrought on the Swiss Alps, where glaciers are rapidly melting and high mountain habitats are disappearing, along with the unique animals that live there. Even then, against all the odds, people are fighting back.

Back from the Brink is not just a story about animals. At its core, it’s really a story about people. We, humans, have caused our planet’s problems, but people are also the key to fixing them. Literally every conservationist I interviewed for the programme spoke with such passion about their work, coupled with an unshakeable belief that what they were doing was utterly worthwhile, and I think that shines through on the screen. It must do because even the production crews, and there were many across Europe, not least our own team here in Ireland, headed by Colm Crowley from RTÉ Cork and scientific advisor Niall Hatch, were totally dedicated to this project.

We want to empower as many of those viewers as possible, and to reinforce the truth that every single one of us can play a role in saving endangered species and the wider environment. It’s not just about doing your bit – it takes much more than a bit, it takes a lot! – but about understanding that we need to accept fundamental changes to the way in which we live our lives. Having seen what can be achieved when the will is there, it will be well worth it, believe me.

Watch Back from the Brink at 6:30pm on Monday, 30th of December on RTÉ One.

On Sunday May 7th 2017, Europe once more awoke to the sound of bird song, thanks to a collaboration between RTÉ and EBU members.

The Dawn Chorus has become a radio phenomenon in Ireland.  Every spring, for more than two decades now, Derek Mooney and his Mooney Goes Wild team on RTÉ Radio 1 have broadcast the sounds of early morning birdsong into homes across the country.  Following on from the huge success of the multi-award winning European Dawn Chorus programme in 2016 (scooping the Rose D'Or for European Radio Event Of The Year and national PPI Radio Award for Innovation), RTÉ once more teamed up with broadcasters and bird experts across Europe and beyond, to bring listeners the exquisite sound and expert analysis of this beautiful birdsong.

On Sunday, May 7th 2017, between midnight and 6am Irish time, we were joined by broadcasting colleagues from all over Europe, the UK and India, to bring you a glorious array of birdsong from around the world.  It really was an epic broadcast, taking listeners in three continents on a six-hour, six-time zone journey to twenty-one different locations, following the wave of light as Dawn broke, traversing every latitude and longitude from a scorching India to a chilly Iceland.

To view our Flickr gallery with all the photos leading up to, and during, the Dawn Chorus broadcast, please visit www.flickr.com/photos/131443927@N07/albums/72157683615460075.

The countries who contributed birdsong this year are:

- Ireland
- Northern Ireland
- Great Britain
- India
- Finland
- Lithuania
- Austria
- Netherlands
- Norway
- Poland
- Spain
- Iceland

For more information on all the countries and contributors taking part, click here.

Thank-you to the following broadcasters for transmitting Dawn Chorus 2017:

BELGIUM - La Premiere, RTBF
CANADA - CBC Radio 1
NORTHERN IRELAND - BBC Radio Ulster & BBC Radio Foyle
INDIA - All India Radio
LUXEMBOURG - Radio 100,7
SLOVENIA - Radio Slovenjia

A massive thank-you also to BirdLife International, BirdWatch Ireland, BirdLife Österreich, OTOP, RSPB NI & Fuglavernd for all their help and assistance with this broadcast.


Click here for a podcast of the first hour, from 00:00 - 01:00 Irish time

Click here for a podcast of the second hour, from 01:00 - 02:00 Irish time

Click here for a podcast of the third hour, from 02:00 - 03:00 Irish time

Click here for a podcast of the fourth hour, from 03:00 - 04:00 Irish time

Click here for a podcast of the fifth hour, from 04:00 - 05:00 Irish time

Click here for a podcast of the sixth hour, from 05:00 - 06:00 Irish time

Each morning in May, as the first glimmer of light begins to break the darkness of European skies, millions of birds begin to sing.  Each individual bird does this for two key reasons: to lay claim to a breeding territory and to attract a mate.  The birds can’t know this, but to human ears the collective effect is like nothing else in the world.

The wall of sound which the birds produce moves like a great wave across the face of the earth, just as it has done without fail for millions of years, as our planet revolves and the line of dawn shifts westwards.  It provides us with an astonishing insight into how our world functions, breathtaking and humbling in equal measure, as well as into the sheer diversity and majesty of nature.

Birds know no boundaries, and their songs have the power to connect us all in a unique way, right across the continent.  As it moves from east to west with the rising sun, the Dawn Chorus represents a genuine shared link between all of Europe’s people, transcending national borders and cultures.

People love nature, and have an intrinsic desire to feel a connection with it.  Birdwatching is the fastest-growing leisure activity in the world, and Europe alone is home to tens of millions of birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts.  Europe is also home to some of the most spectacular songbirds on the planet, a part of our collective European natural heritage that we should proudly celebrate.

The feedback we receive, year after year, from Irish radio listeners has convinced us that there is indeed something very, very special about the Dawn Chorus.  It is ideally suited to radio: indeed, it’s hard to think of anything that is a more natural fit.  More than that, for thousands of people the Dawn Chorus has become a unique introduction to a wider natural world, right on their own doorsteps, of which they were previously unaware.  It is an experience to which everyone can relate and in which everyone can share.

This year, we invite radio listeners in other countries to enjoy this amazing connection with the natural world too.  Thanks to our partners who will be taking part in the broadcast, Derek and his team at RTÉ will bring you the full splendour of the Dawn Chorus live from right across the continent, featuring some of Europe’s finest avian performers in full voice.  Experts will be on hand to explain to listeners what is happening, in real time, and to shed some light on the hidden lives of these amazing birds.  It was a truly fascinating experience.

Special thanks to our conservation partners, BirdWatch Ireland and BirdLife Europe.

What is the Dawn Chorus?

It is the collective sound of all the birds that sing at dawn.  It usually refers to those sounds made by birds that sing during the breeding season, which for most birds in Ireland is between late March and the beginning of July.  The dawn chorus is usually associated with woodland birds but it can be heard everywhere.  Each habitat has its own distinctive "chorus members". 

The dawn chorus never ceases.  It moves, with the early morning light, like a great wave on the face of the Earth.  At this moment, somewhere in the world, the birds are waking up and bursting into song.  Our ancestors, from time immemorial, awoke to this sound.  Bird songs were, for countless millennia, part of everyday life.  Nowadays, however, locked away in our concrete houses, few of us ever hear them.

Each year, in May, International Dawn Chorus Day seeks to remind us of the beauty of that birdsong.  Following on from the huge success of the European Dawn Chorus last year, Mooney Goes Wild will once more broadcast that birdsong from locations right across Europe in May 2017.


Locations And Broadcasters

The Birds Of The Dawn Chorus

Birdsong Explained

What Are Dawn Choruses About?

Taking Part In The Dawn Chorus

Travelling Minstrels

Our Resident Singers

Identifying Birds By Sound

Where To Hear The Dawn Chorus

How To Identify The Singers & Their Songs

Audio tracks from 2005 RTÉ Guide CD The Dawn Chorus



Contact the Show

E-mail: mooney@rte.ie

Facebook: facebook.com/rtenature

Twitter: @NatureRTE

Presenter: Derek Mooney

Series Producer: Ana Leddy


Ways to Listen

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