Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Crouching Hares, Hidden Turtles

The omens for today’s session were excellent with both the North Dalton & the Sigglesethorne/Withernwick contingents seeing Red Kites on their journey to the reserve.   Those who arrived earlier had also identified a Yellowhammer near the car park.  However, it was very windy and the small passerines weren’t sitting on the top of bushes as is their want at this time of year.  Near the car park we did hear or see Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Wren, Willow Warbler and Collared Dove.  Soon we could hear a distant Skylark and then the chuffing train sound of a red-legged Partridge.  Also early on we heard a Blackcap, but this was incredibly elusive in the strong winds.  Stock Doves were heard ‘singing’ and there were plenty of Woodpigeons & Collared Doves, but there was not a whisper of the purring of Turtle Doves, which were almost guaranteed at this site.

Long-tailed Tit [fledgling]
As we approached the farm that keeps horses we heard and saw a concealed Willow Tit.  I've seen Marsh Tits in this area a few times, but this was the first time I've encountered Willow Tits at this location.  This was later confirmed at lunch time when surveyor for the BTO mentioned that he’d clearly seen a Willow Tit, fairly close to where we picked it up. We also had our best views of a Blackcap near here, and we could see plenty of House Martins hunting insects in the lee of the tall Sycamores in the distance.  We had a great view of a Willow Warbler in the said Sycamores, but it was much easier to observe when it landed on some wires, and continued to sing.  We eventually encountered a Swallow past the Sycamores, where Goldfinches & Yellowhammers came down on to the path to feed.
The area which may have had railways sidings in the past had been cleared over the winter, so the Common & Lesser Whitethroats were absent for the first time.  We didn’t actually see and hear a  Whitethroat until we arrived at the YWT reserve – normally we would have expected to have encountered at least 5, but probably nearer 10 by this point.  Linnets began to fly over at regular intervals, and we flushed a pair of Red-legged Partridge and could hear a bullfinch as we approached the YWT reserve.  We entered the old quarry, but one of the only new birds to be seen was a male Pied Wagtail.  Here, we enjoyed our best view of a Yellowhammer and another good sighting of a Willow Warbler. There were a few House Martins, Swallows and a single Swift hunting for insects against the steep escarpment.
 Wild Strawberry
There is no doubt that the spirits of everyone were lifted on the return journey by the recently fledged Long-tailed Tit family – there seemed to be at least 10 individuals.  The rain set in at this point I we didn’t see a lot of note until we had a brief view of a Buzzard, and then we observed a male Kestrel hunting near the old railway bridge, and then Margaret spotted a last-minute Song Thrush.  Despite the sightings the morning session was the worst spring outing for this particular stretch of hedgerow.  This was undoubtedly partially due to the force of the northerly winds, and probably also to tardiness of many migrants which even now have failed to arrive on their breeding grounds.
 Long-tailed Tit [fledgling]
At 1pm a Red Kite passed right over the car park being mobbed by a crow, perhaps the afternoon was going to be better?  In the afternoon I did a complete about-turn by setting off at 180 degrees to the morning journey.  This paid off immediately with a singing Blackcap, although it was pretty elusive, and not everyone managed good views of this bird.  A Wren in the same area was a little more forthcoming.  The Marsh Tit, Treecreeper, Peregrine and Yellowhammer we’ve seen in this area before were absent this time.  A little further on we heard the distant laugh of a Green Woodpecker, but it was on private land, so we couldn’t find it.  The Red-legged Partridges weren’t in their normal area, but had been replaced by many Woodpigeons and a single Song Thrush.  In the same field we witnessed some strange behaviour by a couple of crouching Hares, and then we searched the field there were many other Hares scattered around, as well as the obligatory Woodpigeons.  It was just after this that we saw a Whitethroat without a tail.  He continued to sing and display like any male Whitethroat, but I don’t know what his chances will be without a tail! 
Red Kite [right] Being Mobbed by a Crow
 2 Brown Hares [1 crouched]

One section was very windswept and the Yellowhammers normally seen in this area had all gone to ground, but when we reached shelter again the sightings increased in number.  We came across another new family of Long-tailed Tits, again of at least 10 in number.  We came across 3 Blackbird eggs and 2 Song Thrush eggs which had been predated, probably by Crows or Magpies.  We went under 2 bridges & just after passing under the second one we heard our first Lesser Whitethroat.  It soon stopped singing and started scolding us.  Unfortunately, it was typically skulking in behaviour, but while we were waiting for it to reappear, a male Bullfinch arrived, and stayed long enough for everyone to get a decent view of it. 
Blackbird Eggs [Predated]
 Song Thrush Eggs [Predated]
Whitethroat (tail-less)

On the way back we saw a pair of Red-legged Partridges just above one of the bridges, but they scuttled away into a field.  Then we got great views of an extremely bright male Yellowhammer, 2 further Lesser Whitethroats were heard singing, but these were even harder to see.  We passed a birder who had come to see the Turtle Doves which used to be in this area, and we can only hope he was more successful than we were.  On the evidence of today it would seem that Turtle Doves have completely died out in this area, but I fervently hope that it was just the terrible winds that caused them to keep their heads down.   One of the final birds seen was a very confiding Willow Warbler which was singing and feeding on insects only a matter of feet away from this afternoon’s participants.
Willow Warbler


After the class finished I went to the supposed best Bluebell spectacle in the area.  Although the Bluebells were great I discovered that these were just beyond their peak.  I need to go earlier next year!

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