Saturday, 15 March 2014

Close Encounters with Lulu

On Friday we travelled to a distant venue near York. I wish I could say I was experimenting with not using binoculars in the morning, but as I was putting away a spare pair that someone borrowed yesterday, I forgot to retrieve my own. For the first time we could hear a Woodlark singing from the car park. Also in the car park I heard a 'frank' and then saw a Heron heading East. In the afternoon I heard the familiar and distinctive calls of Crossbills and a small flock of 7 individuals were heading north-west, but as John D watched, they turned round and returned to the woodland. 
Woodlark - 'Lulu'
 The Aerial Ballet
We walked to a new glade and found a pair of Woodlark fluttering over the heath and over our heads a couple of times. The light was pretty poor for photography. Some who hadn't seen them before were transfixed by their bat-like flight. We were able to watch this aerial ballet for the first time ever on a Friday, possibly the first time ever on any session in 10 years of the course.  There were also at least 3 Roe Deer leaving the glade as we reached it, but most of our attention was reserved for the Woodlarks. Another Heron flew over heading north - had the original bird done a u-turn? 
 The Pair in the Ploughed field
 The Female in the Field Margin
 Compare the male's markings [left] with the paler female
 We carried on and reached the woodland, and hadn't been going for long when we came across our first Friday Chiffchaff. It was perched near the very top of a Silver Birch. We turned a corner and having escaped the conifers we found a Silver Birch plantation from which we flushed a Mistle Thrush. Meanwhile a Song Thrush could be heard singing from the conifers behind. A little further on we reached a recently ploughed field, and there was another fluttering Woodlark. It came down on the edge of the field, but by the time everyone had lined up it had moved to some stubble, and was very difficult to see. In the afternoon we were scanning this field when Sue W spotted a Yellowhammer, and as we were attempting to locate this we discovered a Woodlark and then a second bird. This pair kept disappearing from sight as they travelled across the field when they popped down into a cavity created by the recent ploughing. We had been watching them for several minutes when they suddenly lifted and flew across the field very close to the edge on which we were standing. We carefully negotiated the piles of dog mess covering this public footpath and peeped over the gorse bush screening us from them, and there they were apparently feeding on a grassy verge. It was seeing two close to each other like this when it became possible to note the differences between the genders. The male walked on to the ploughed soil and posed for a while before they both took to the air. This was the closest view we'd ever had, and the relatively large wing surface area, and short tail were noted. During the whole period we were watching them, they remained completely silent, so they could easily have been missed if they had been among the stubble.
 Great Spotted Woodpecker - Showing his Maleness
We carried on a wide route where in the morning a male Great Spotted Woodpecker landed on a telegraph pole. Meanwhile a Yellowhammer on a low bush proved trickier for everyone to see clearly. A little further on I heard a few sweet notes from the Tree-Pipit-mimicking Reed Bunting. At this point we passed a small group of younger ornithologists, botanists, herpetologists and  bug hunters, who had seen at least 4 Crossbills and heard the Green Woodpecker. Several times we had Siskins flying over but they were only very swift glimpses. 
Great Spotted Woodpecker
 Record Shot of Linnet

We climbed a stile to check several corrugated sheets, but the lack of sun meant that all of these were devoid of basking Adders. From the pool the Green Woodpecker laughed at us, but it remained well hidden. Some Crossbills were heard flying over, but again they remained hidden from view. In the afternoon the most obvious sounds emanated from Coal Tits. In the morning a single Woodlark flew over us giving out a brief call note, and a second bird joined it before they flew off in a southerly direction. As we crossed another treacherous barbed wired stile we had brief views of a Siskin drinking from a hidden pool among the conifers.

 Male Green Woodpecker - peeping from behind tree
We walked along the perimeter of a bank which holds Adders in sunny conditions, but there was no sign under this unsuitable and cool weather. When we arrived at the central path again the Green Woodpecker's laugh had grown louder, and it seemed to mock us from its vantage point among the conifers. Eventually it did fly over and landed in a deciduous tree, from which it peeped out at us, before flying back to the conifers like a temperamental undulating guided missile. Also in this area was a pair of Long-tailed Tits, a pair of Marsh Tits in the afternoon, while a distant Skylark could be heard over the southern fields. 
Record Shot of Wayward Guided Missile
 Marsh Tit
 Long-tailed Tit
 Hoof Fungus
 Frogspawn - becoming high & dry
The remaining walk back to the car park was fairly quiet with no sign of last week's Merlin or Fieldfare. However, In the afternoon Jeff spotted first one and then another Buzzard, which were performing on the edge of the trees and just over our heads. It wasn't possible to get a completely uninterrupted view because at this particular juncture there weren't any gaps in the tree cover. When we arrived back at the car park everyone, myself included, had enjoyed their best encounter with one of the most delightful species of British birds - the Woodlark.

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