The FoGW resident bird specialist Chris Measures leads 'Bird Walks' in our wood each year. He has a keen eye and ear and guides groups to see, hear and experience the rich bird life the wood and surrounding area supports. Chris's notes relating to these walks and the birds encountered will appear here. He will also occasionally add notes relating to his own birding and wildlife experiences in our recording area.
FRIENDS OF GILLFIELD WOOD
BIRD WALK 20 January 2018
Those hardy souls that had managed to negotiate the icy conditions and gather at the bottom of Totley Hall Lane for the start of the first Bird Walk of the New Year were able to carefully scan the small field adjacent to the lane to get excellent views of four species of the thrush family that were feeding on the ground in the short grass.
Two of the species present were Redwing and Fieldfare, these are regarded as Britain’s “winter thrushes” because they visit our shores during the autumn and winter, having moved west from Scandinavia and even from further east, Russia. A quick count showed we were looking at ten Redwings and two Fieldfares. The differences in size and plumage were very clear for all to study and compare. The Redwings, the size of a Song Thrush, had the rusty-red markings on their flanks and the distinctive pale stripe above their eyes. The Fieldfares were bigger, more upright in stance, with an orange tinge to their heavily marked breasts and the grey of the rump and crown were noticeable. So our two main target species for the day were already “in the bag”!
Amongst the Redwings and Fieldfares, a couple of Mistle Thrushes, the same size as Fieldfares seemed to be as intent on keeping watch as they were feeding; standing proud and alert after each short run across the field. These birds came quite close to us, so their pale brown appearance and the large round black spots on the breast and under-belly were clear for all to see. The fourth type of thrush feeding in the field was the Blackbird, also known in the old days in Yorkshire as the “Black Thrush”. A small group of six of these birds was feeding in the leaf litter at the field edge. There certainly seems to have been more Blackbirds about over the last few weeks, no doubt the resident number being supplemented by birds moving down from further north or migrating in from the continent. Yes, those Blackbirds overwintering in your own garden may have travelled from Denmark, Germany or Scandinavia for the pleasure of feeding at your bird table, which is always a nice thought.
Anyway, as we watched and admired these thrushes a Robin sang from the hedge behind us and a Great Spotted Woodpecker briefly called overhead. The trees at the bottom of Totley Hall Lane are always productive and did not disappoint this morning as two Nuthatches and a Treecreeper put in an appearance while a Wren dived quickly across a gap in the piles of wood nearby and was seen to search for food amongst the logs. As we stepped over the new style into the first field a flock of Goldfinches flew high across the field; we could see their gold wing-bars and hear their tingling call; a “charm” is a perfect collective noun for this species. And as we turned to move on, a small party of Long-tailed Tits flew close-by us in a tight-knit group. This very small tit has an egg-shaped body and a distinctive long thin tail; one member of our group stated that these tits, when in flight, always remind her of dragonflies. All these encounters were a great start to this January walk.
We then searched nearby fields for more winter thrushes as we moved across the first field; a flock of more than one hundred Redwings had been feeding in one of the fields a few days before. There was none to be found today but we did manage to see a small flock of Starlings feeding on the ground with a number of Magpies and Woodpigeons near to them. Four Carrion Crows also made their presence known as they interacted and called loudly from the tops of hedgerow trees.
Pressing on along a track towards Gillfield Wood, we then noticed a Jay feeding below the outreaching branches of an Oak tree at the edge of a field. Everyone stood quite still and took it in turns to get better views of this striking bird through the telescope we had to hand. A member of the Crow family, Jays seem to be doing quite well locally and it is not unusual to find these birds, in ones or twos, in and around our wood. This particular bird stayed just long enough for its exceptional colours to be noted; the pinkish tinge to the head and body and the blue, white and black markings in the wing. Then it just disappeared from view which is typical of this shy species. And as we stood there the loud call of a Great Tit was pointed out to the group and then as if in competition another bird, same species, was heard to emit from deep cover the “Teacher, Teacher” call to add to the atmosphere of the morning.
And then it happened; a bird of prey, flying towards us on lazy long wings. It was Buzzard size, but it wasn’t a Buzzard, it was a Kite, a Red Kite; unbelievable! This was only the second time this raptor has been formally recorded in our Gillfield Wood area and there it was flying low over our heads. The light was not great so we were not seeing all its glorious red colouration but nevertheless the long forked tail was seen to do that characteristic twisting as this majestic bird adjusted its flight. It completed a tight circle in the air before drifting northwards out of sight. Great excitement, a brilliant “tick”.
Clearly this moment would not be beaten today, but we moved on to higher ground so we could have good views over the top of the wood onto the fields beyond in the hope of “pulling” a Common Buzzard. Unfortunately, on this occasion, one did not put in an appearance but the trusted Great Spotted Woodpecker did; not just one but several were seen or heard calling during the rest the walk. From our vantage point one was heard to call out its distinctive “click” noise which enabled us to locate it at the top of a Larch. It was a male with the red patch at the back of its head. The woodpecker then moved sideways-on so we all had good views of the bright black and white markings on the wings and that lovely flush of red on the underside of the body. As we studied this bird, an excited member of our group called out that there was another one clinging directly below to the same Larch. A pair, or was this a rival male? No calls of aggression were uttered but one bird was seen to drop from the tree top and in deep undulating flight it passed over our heads to land in another tree on the other side of the field. It is always surprising to see how far some of these woodpeckers will fly when they leave Gillfield Wood; some continue in what appears to be an energy sapping flight, across many fields, to reach the gardens of Totley without stopping in any of the available trees on the way.
As we entered the wood today, Coal Tits and Blue Tits were heard calling from on high and were seen feeding in the tree canopy. As Long-tailed Tits joined them, a solitary Treecreeper was seen to be working its way up a tall Oak, switching from one side of the trunk to the other and then going out on the underside of a branch demonstrating how adept they are. On the previous walk it had been very difficult to point out this tiny bird to those attending; we all remember too well the constant rain and mist on our binoculars that day. It was however very pleasing to learn afterwards that one member had been thrilled that he had actually managed to see that Treecreeper despite the weather conditions; it was his first sighting of this species. He would have certainly enjoyed seeing this delicate bird today as we got better views as it performed so well for us.
Continuing through the wood we could hear the occasional Robin, Wren and Chaffinch calling from the edges and, of course, those Great Spotted Woodpeckers made their presence known in several areas. On leaving the wood at the east end we did manage to see and hear Tree Sparrow and Bullfinch which are always good birds to add to our list of species seen on these quarterly walks. And as we neared our finishing point we had the opportunity of watching a tall Grey Heron quietly walking with stealth along the centre of the brook; you could not help but wonder what morsels of food it would find in the flowing waters on such a day in January.
As the group dispersed there were thoughts of our next Bird Walk which is planned for the spring. Hopefully some summer migrants, such as Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps will have arrived and their songs will add to the songs of our resident birds that will be on territory and probably nesting. There is so much to see and experience in and around our wood so hopefully you will join us on one of these Bird Walks. We may even see the odd butterfly but sorry, another Red Kite cannot be guaranteed!
Please remember you do not have to be a member to come along to any of the events run by The Friends of Gillfield Wood. The events are advertised on the FoGW website and within the diary in this publication. No experience is necessary to attend; you will be made very welcome. The next Bird Walk is on Saturday April 28th and starts at the Scout Hut by Aldam Road at the earlier time of 0800 hours.