In twilight

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on May 27, 2017 by cliffdean

I was quite relieved the other evening, to pick out a fragment of Nightingale song to one side of the birds on which we were focusing. By late May they tend to have quietened down but I’d been away or too occupied with other things to lead a walk any earlier in the month. Earlier in the month, indeed, in places where the idea of actually leading a walk to hear this ubiquitous songster would have seemed absurd – like mounting an expedition to hear a Blackbird.

But this is England, where the hope of hearing a Nightingale – south-eastern and getting scarcer – makes a good core objective around which can be wrapped the many other delights of a woodland dusk like songs, scents, stars and silhouettes.

Starting among tall trees, we were surrounded by the rich song of Blackcap, Blackbird, Song Thrush & Wren, with the tiny sound of a Goldcrest high up in Scots Pines. Then a nervous GS Woodpecker which eventually led us to its nest of cheeping chicks, and out onto the north end of Sedlescombe Heath with its burbling Garden Warblers, distant Cuckoo and the 2 Nightingales. As usual, the loudest of these, though just a couple of metres from us remained resolutely hidden in bramble but, as I keep saying, with these birds it’s not the visual that makes them remarkable.

Everyone had plenty of opportunity to savour the unique resonance of this celebrated song, together with interlocution from another one not far off. Following the headline act the chorus tailed off more quickly than I expected and further on at “Nightingale Alley” not a bird was to be heard other than a Tawny Owl. In pines though we had been surprised by loud calls moving across the treetops – a protesting Hobby!

South of Otranto

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on May 27, 2017 by cliffdean

Yellow

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on May 25, 2017 by cliffdean

The Sussex Bird Report for 2015 concluded: “There seems to be no sign of Yellow Wagtails seeking to breed in arable areas of the county.”

In fact, there are loads of them, but mostly east of Rye, in arable land that looks unappealing to the birdwatchers speeding hopefully towards Dungeness.

Yesterday, Alan P & I mapped them in TQ91Z, a tetrad covering Broomhill Levels. We couldn’t reach all of the square containing suitable habitat and didn’t bother with some that looked unsuitable but nonetheless found 37 birds at 31 sites. There were 6 established pairs and no doubt some of the other individuals will prove to belong together but it’s fair to say there was no shortage and, although there’s yet to be “proof of breeding”, there was little doubt as to what was on their minds. In bright sunlight, some of the males were truly dazzling.

The majority were crowded into oilseed rape fields in the SW corner of the tetrad while those in cereals were distributed more loosely. A pea-field was not grown up enough to provide cover.

In additions to the Yellow Wagtails we counted 5 singing Corn Buntings but did not attempt the many Skylarks, Reed Buntings, Linnets, Reed & Sedge Warblers.

The 37 species recorded in total included Marsh Harrier, Buzzard, Whimbrel, Barn Owl and a couple of Sand Martins – our first autumn migrants. A group of 3 Brown Hares was, as the tractor-driver put it, “A sight for sore eyes.”

Birdsong in BHW

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on May 22, 2017 by cliffdean

An unexpected heavy shower ceased before the walk began but left scents in the air and drops rattling down in the breeze. After that, alternating cloud and sunshine sent pulses of light through darker coppice.

From the start, the principal songs were Chiffchaf, Wren & Blackcap, the first simply onomatopoeic, so easy to learn, the second distinctively shrill  but the third sharing warbles and fluty notes with some other woodland birds.

Management by the Woodland Trust has resulted in a kaleidoscope of variation, be it of tree species, structure or intensity of light, these variables reflected in the birds present therefore in the songs emerging, often  from an invisible source. Moving away from the car park area and past denser bramble,we began to encounter more Robins and a single desultory  Nightingale.

Besides learning songs, we were looking for breeding evidence, following the BTO guidelines. At first the Blackcaps were no more than Singing Males (S) but soon we encountered a madly ticking and scolding bird – definitely Agitated (A) though at what we could not see. There was also a GS Woodpecker feeding very busily to suggest it had young in a nearby nest but if it did, we couldn’t hear them.

Round the corner,with opened up heath to the left and tall Scots Pines to the right, we heard two new birds: a Common Whitethroat (S), and some Siskins which maybe bred here earlier in the year  but now were not really doing anything special and were too high and quick  to check for youngsters, so just (H) –present in suitable breeding habitat.  More conclusive evidence was provided by a family procession of Long-tailed Tits,which gave us not only FL – recently fledged young – but great views of the brownish coloration compared with their busy parents’ pink & black.

Sadly there was no sign of Tree Pipit at the clearing but an area of tall scrub in the middle gave us Garden Warbler – an allegedly “difficult” song and the much easier Willow Warbler in the light birch fringes. The former – most considerately – was singing not 20m from a Blackcap, whose song is most easily confused with it. They share similar habitat and I’d just been reading in the BTO Volunteer magazine that Blackcaps will sometimes mimic Garden Warbler to deter incomers, but these two were very distinctive, adhering to the classic structures.

There were  a couple  of interesting moments of cognitive dissonance, where songs could be heard quite at odds with the habitats were looking at. The first was as we searched a very bare chestnut coppice, littered with dead diagonals of branches windthrown back in 1987. Small noises in the tops suggested Spotted Flycatcher but we just couldn’t see it/them. Then a Garden Warbler sang – completely wrong: no scrub, no cover. A short distance ahead however, passes a pylon line, the wood beneath it cleared ever five years and obviously coming up for another trashing since the scrub had grown up to Garden Warbler level.

The second occurred while we were in dark and creepy Hornbeam coppice, surrounded by flattened bluebells and ancient bell-pits, having just paid our respects to the Big Wild Service tree. Typical was a pair of Marsh Tits,scolding in typical fashion Through the wriggling branches came the chatter of a Reed Warbler. No cover, definitely no reeds, except that just downhill, out of the  coppice and through a dense screen of willows, is the reservoir.A shallow projection where an old road drops below the surface permits the growth of a stand of phragmites. Hence the Reed Warbler. Other wetland species were calling unseen from the lake: Coot & Little Grebe.

Above the heather of Holman Field, Buzzards (P) pair in suitable habitat, were circling quietly, then from the tall Scots Pines calls of Coal Tit & Goldcrests.

 

 

 

East from Olot

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on May 20, 2017 by cliffdean

Between Rye & Winchelsea

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on May 19, 2017 by cliffdean

Synchronising with the Freccia della Palude at Winchelsea Centrale on a morning cooler than it ought to be, thick with the night’s rain and scented with fading hawthorns, are two Cuckoos, ever more precious for all their louche wing-drooping as they promise to vanish from our world.

Along the lane,where the fly-tipped junk is engulfed by springtime weeds, Chiffchaffs sing from the willows and golden Yellowhammers skim the field-edge. Within the withered branches of the spring-fed oak just beyond the junction a dot is moving; moving in a way that reveals it as a Spotted Flycatcher. Another bird now reduced to a dot like the one that used to shrink to nothing as you turned off the television. And the Little Owl that used to sun itself on the rabbit-grazed bank has upped sticks ever since I told people this was a good place to see Little Owl.

Along the misty cliff-line though, the air is so crowded with voices welling up from prehistory  – Blackbird, Song Thrush, Chaffinch, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Whitethroat, Dunnock, Reed Warbler, Wren…. concentration is required to unravel the soundscape.

Deep and percussive pulses of Nightingale song issue from the shadows by a rope-swing beneath a clump of taller trees.

Max Ernst: Deux enfants menacés par un rossignol

Rossignol translates not only as Nightingale but also, magically, as “skeleton key”. The song is the key which unlocks deep and forgotten doors.

Usignolo di fiume, River Nightingale, Cetti’s Warbler, also deeply hidden, announces its presence in brief and blatant blasts. For a long time just one or two here, last year nine, this morning five.

Both end and beginning, this extensive dung-heap S of Dairy Cottage attracts much favourable attention from Yellow Wagtails, Jackdaws, Rooks, Greylag Geese, Stock Doves, a Herring Gull, Pied Wagtails & Swallows, the latter three commuting from nest-sites on Cadborough Cliff to profit from its fertility.

Joan Miro: Man and Woman in Front of a Pile of Excrement

Efforts have been made, across the arable fields, to impose productive uniformity and erase history by levelling out the snaking hollows of former creeks.  Comparatively birdless maize last year has been superseded by other cereals, currently inhabited by a couple of dozen Skylarks and four pairs of Yellow Wagtails. While one Mute Swan continues to incubate, two other pairs already have cygnets. Four Sedge Warblers are grating from scrubby ditches toward the Antient Towne, above which yet more dots denote the hanging on of the relic Swift & House Martin populations.

Only the surface of the ground is wet but by the time I reach the lane again I’m hobbling on high pattens claggy soil.

Cross country

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on May 18, 2017 by cliffdean

We’ve  been walking in Catalonia & Puglia. Back now in the rolling green of Sussex,where upcoming RXbirdwalks are as follows:

Saturday 20th: Brede High Woods
I’d hoped to organise a Nightingale walk one evening this coming week but Events have intervened. On Saturday, however, in daylight hours they might still be singing and if not there will be a chorus of many other woodland birds as well as beautiful fresh foliage.
(Evening walk for Nightingales)

This depends on weather conditions and,of course, Events. Another evening might work out better, so watch this space.

Saturday 27th: Dengemarsh

There should be good oportunities to see Hobbies, Marsh Harriers, probably Bittern as well as the great variety of waterbirds present around this part of the RSPB reserve. A chance too to see if you can still distinguish Sedge & Reed Warblers by song, pick out Whitethroats in song flight and track down Lesser Whitethroat.

 If you would like to join uson any of these walks please email me on rxbirdwalks1066@yahoo.com