Norvic Philatelics - GB New Stamps and Special Postmarks

Songbirds - 4 May 2017

A celebration of British songbirds, launched in time for International Dawn Chorus Day (7 May). This 10-stamp issue explores some familiar and less well-known songbirds, whose song defines the British spring and early summer, from birds with simple songs to those with complex repertoires.

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The Ten Stamps

Set of 10 Songbirds stamps.

Sheet 1: Great Tit, Wren, Willow Warbler, Goldcrest, Skylark.
Sheet 2: Blackcap, Song Thrush, Nightingale, Cuckoo, Yellowhammer

The stamps - all 1st Class

1st Class: Great Tit Parus major
Great tits are among the first birds to welcome the spring, and they do so with varied songs that are strident, vigorous, monotonous and unmistakable. The most common consists of loud, much-repeated syllables often transcribed as ‘teacher-teacher-teacher’; it has also been compared to the sound of a squeaky pump in action. Great tits like mature trees, parks and gardens and thrive in suburbia. They are bold birds, their yellow bellies divided by a black stripe. This is a bird that draws attention to itself.
Status: Increasing.   Wintering grounds: Resident in the UK year round

1st Class: Wren Troglodytes troglodytes
If you hear a song of astonishing volume from round about knee-high, chances are that it’s a wren. It seems barely possible for so small a creature to make such a din. The song is hard and dry and rattly, and it is usually marked by a prolonged trill at the end, although when a recording of it is slowed down, it becomes curiously melodic. Wrens like scrub and cover close to the ground. When they come briefly into sight, their cocked tail is a visual signature.
Status: Increasing, especially in Scotland.   Wintering grounds: Mostly resident in the UK, but some birds migrate to Continental Europe

1st Class: Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus
The first willow warbler tends to announce the arrival of the high spring. The warming-up is over: now for the real thing. These birds fly in from western Africa to spend the summer with us – a prodigious journey for such a small bird. The song is a soft, lisping descent down the scale, much repeated with subtle variations. These are birds of scrubby unkempt countryside rather than thick woods, and they mostly prefer places a little wilder than towns or the intensive agricultural countryside.
Status: Declining in England.   Wintering grounds: Birds winter in sub-Saharan Africa, mostly in Ghana and Ivory Coast

1st Class: Goldcrest Regulus regulus
These are Britain’s smallest birds, and they have a thin little song to match. Its most often heard from the top of a conifer tree: a pretty trickle of golden notes that you could easily overlook. The notes are very high; as birders grow old, they often lose the ability to hear goldcrests. But a still day under a stand of conifers in the spring is very likely to bring you a snatch of that pretty song, and a sighting of the bird, with its flaming headdress, is always cheering.
Status: Increasing somewhat.  Wintering grounds: British birds winter in Britain, joined by some Scandinavian migrants

1s t Class: Skylark Alauda arvensis
Skylarks are essentially ground birds that make their living from open spaces of grass, heath and arable fields, often remaining inconspicuous. It’s only when the spell of spring is upon them that they take to the air for a sustained period, and up they go – as if being wound up on an invisible string.  They are still widely distributed throughout the UK, but the steep decline in their numbers is one of the many worrying problems of the 21st-century countryside.
Status: Declining steeply.   Wintering grounds: Birds winter in Britain but many move locally.

1st Class: Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla
Here is a song of prolonged grace and tunefulness. Blackcaps have often been claimed as Britain’s champion songsters, subtler and more melodic than nightingales. They also travel much farther north than nightingales. Their song is fruity and fluty but mixes in more challenging notes and phrases. They like to sing from cover and are not often seen, but their song is familiar in mature gardens and parks nationwide as well as in wilder places – they are secret superstars.
Status: Increasing.   Wintering grounds: Most British birds winter in southern Europe and northern Africa, but increasing numbers of birds from Germany and north eastern Europe winter in the UK

1st Class: Song Thrush Turdus philomelos
Song thrushes are mad about repetition. They take a phrase, run through it two or three times, then come up with another and repeat that. They like to do so from a high, often exposed perch: the top of a mature tree is best, but even a lamp post will do. They swing into action early in the year, on fine days in February, and can be heard anywhere with trees and open spaces, which makes parks and gardens as natural for them as
woodland edges. They sing on into July.
Status: Declining steeply.   Wintering grounds: British bird’s winter mostly at home, but some fly to northern France, Spain or Portugal, and some from the Low Countries migrate to Britain for the winter

1st Class: Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos
Nightingales don’t just sing at night; they also sing all day. It’s the most strenuous option taken up by any songbird. And what a song: louder than you’d believe possible, a crescendo of whistles, a deep throbbing drumming, strange radiophonic sounds and snatches of pure melody. Nightingales sing from deep cover, so don’t bother trying to see one: revel in that impossible song, loudest from late April to mid-May.
Status: Declining steeply.   Wintering grounds: Birds winter in western Africa

1st Class: Cuckoo Cuculus canorus
The two-syllable song was once known to everyone in the country but is now a comparative rarity. Yet in the right places – often low-lying and damp – the cuckoos arrive for a six-week frenzy of sound, from late April to the beginning of June. Cuckoos are famous for laying their eggs in other birds’ nests, so the one essential of this lifestyle is for males to get into contact with females. They need an uncomplicated song that carries for miles.
Status: Declining steeply in England and Wales.  Wintering grounds: Birds winter in the African tropics; satellite-tagged British birds have been traced to western African rainforest

1st Class: Yellowhammer Emberiza citrinella
The yellowhammer’s song was once the song of traditional farmland: this is a hedge-loving bird singing a much-repeated phrase that is traditionally written as ‘a little bit of bread and no cheese’, although it’s more like ‘bread-bread-bread-bread cheeeeeese’. Changes in farming practices have led to these birds’ decline, but they can still be heard in places where the hedges and the food supply are right. The male, in a good light, stands out with a blazing yellow head.
Status: Declining.   Wintering grounds: Birds winter mostly in Britain but some migrate to Continental Europe

Technical details:

The stamps were designed by Osborne Ross using illustrations by Italian artist Federico Gemma. They are printed by International Security Printers in lithography.  Details of the stamp size and sheet arrangement have not been supplied.

The stamps will be issued in two sheets with five se-tenant designs per sheet, enabling customers to buy a vertical strip of five of any individual bird.

Products issued, available from Royal Mail: 

Set of 10 stamps (2 strips of 5) -- Strip of 5 from sheet 1 or sheet 2, or vertical strip of 5 of any single stamp
First day cover -- Presentation pack -- Stamp cards (set of 10)

Special Postmarks

Postmarks available for the day of issue are shown on Royal Mail's Postmark Bulletin, download from here. (pdf)

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This page created 27 April 2017

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