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.
Bird Walk 9 February 2019
What a relief, it wasn’t raining. A dry morning, but it was certainly very windy. A quick chat at the start where a few brave souls gathered; decision made, our Bird Walk would go-ahead on this cold bright Saturday morning. Minutes before, a bright rainbow was seen arced across the sky above the houses of Totley, a magnificent sight to start the morning for those lucky enough to catch a glimpse.
As we waited for one or two more people to join us the question was raised “What birds are we likely to see today?”. Not an easy question to answer on such a day when it was clear the weather conditions would play such an important part in which birds would put in an appearance. The strong wind was making the birds stay low; “They are hunkered down today ”, was one person’s take on the situation.
As we moved slowly along the footpath leaving the Scout Hut behind, brief views of Blue Tit and Robin were secured. Unmistakeable Magpies were then heard calling out as they flew from trees to roof tops. You can always rely on Magpies to make their presence known and be chattering away loudly as they move around in small groups. A Parliament of Magpies, how appropriate!
Within a few hundred metres we had stopped in a clearing where it was a little more sheltered and we were immediately rewarded with Nuthatch calling. This bird has a variety of rich loud calls and is particularly vocal at this time of the year. Although it proved difficult to see the bird high up in the back of some scrub, it suddenly flew over our heads and then another one did the same for those of the group that missed the first one. Blue-grey above, pale underneath, Nuthatches appear small and dumpy in flight, with their short wings and tail. Whilst discussing the fact that Nuthatches have a slightly undulating flight, a male Bullfinch was suddenly spotted in flight and then a Jay. Both colourful in their own right, these birds have that distinctive white rump which shows so well when they are flying away from you.
Two tripods were quickly erected at this point so good views through telescopes could be had of any birds showing, including two Carrion Crows and three Wood Pigeons that were perched in different nearby trees. The sun was behind us and was shining perfectly on these birds. Although looking at them with the naked eye or through binoculars was good, it was so nice to just spend a bit of time looking at the plumage of each through the telescopes and admiring the markings of the Pigeons and the gloss and subtle tones of the Crows. And you could even see the eye of the Crow glinting in the sun as it turned its head. It is so easy to take such species for granted at times.
And there was more activity in this area; Long-tailed Tits were heard trilling as they moved through an area of dense Blackthorn and then a flock of Goldfinches and a couple of Greenfinches flew over the area and landed in a large Oak tree. These latter two species were watched again a few minutes later when we stood quietly in another spot trying to locate the elusive Tree Sparrows. It is always good to see our local wintering population of Tree Sparrows, albeit a tiny population. Nest boxes have been erected on this site in the hope the Tree Sparrows will stay and breed because it would be nice to know we are helping this particular species to reverse years of decline. Although one or possibly two birds were seen in the depth of the Hawthorn bushes near to us, not everyone was able to “get on them” so we made the most of the Goldfinches and Greenfinches that were perched out in the open. It was however too cold to stand around for long so we decided to move on to the shelter of Gillfield Wood as a Black-headed Gull slowly flew by against the wind.
Once in the wood we had only walked a short distance when a Jay flew low over our heads carrying a morsel of food. And then a Great-spotted Woodpecker was heard calling. Things again were looking up, so to speak. This Woodpecker was quickly found for all of the group to have good views. It was seen in flight briefly as it moved through the trees to land in the sun at the top of a tall Larch. Perfect; we were able to get the telescopes focused onto the bird so we could all see the black wings with thick white shoulder patches and the distinctive deep red vent under the tail. In addition we could see it was a female as, unlike a male, it did not have the red patch on the back of the head. And in case you were wondering the juveniles have different degrees of red on top of the head.
Our walk then took us over the bridge that crosses Totley Brook to the fields on the south side. Keeping to the footpath we made our way up Shep’s Hill to go alongside the grounds of Woodthorpe Hall. The views from here were lovely on such a clear day but it was not a day to be hanging around as the wind was really blowing and had that chill factor. No Buzzards were soaring today and there were no other birds of prey putting in an appearance. We did stop and admire the work of a Great-spotted Woodpecker that had pecked out nesting holes in an Oak tree over recent years and we did manage to see Chaffinch, Bullfinch and Nuthatch before arriving by the side of Fanshawe Gate Hall for our descent to the wood again. The big disappointment was that we did not hear or see any Redwings or Fieldfares, our winter thrushes. They seem to have been thin on the ground again this year in our area, apart from the initial westerly movement in the autumn; we did so hope that we might see one or two small flocks feeding in the fields.
Our walk back through the wood gave us the opportunity to watch a flock of Long-tailed Tits calling and feeding as they moved together through the trees and some of the group did manage to see a Mistle Thrush as well. Then for the second time that day we were able to watch Grey Wagtail feeding at the water’s edge of Totley Brook. It was constantly on the move with its long tail pumping up and down as the name suggests, but not just the tail, the whole rear end of the bird seemed to go with the movement. It is pleasing that one or more of these delightful birds are being seen along the brook this winter. We had one in a different part of the wood when we did our January Bird Walk and they have been seen recently in gardens near to the wood as well.
After this we did hope for a Brambling, another bird with a distinctive white rump. This Chaffinch like bird has come across from the continent in very large numbers this autumn. They can often be seen feeding under Beech trees, they feed on the Beech mast. Locally, a few have been seen in gardens and at the edge of Totley Hall Park associating with Goldfinches and Chaffinches. A beautifully marked bird but easily over-looked, it has an orange tinged breast, a back of varied buffs and browns and a lovely marked head. Unfortunately we were not lucky enough to find one on this walk but we did finish with a fleeting glimpse of our first Wren of the morning plus we were serenaded off site by a Hedge Sparrow that flew in and as if to claim territory sang its heart out on a branch low to the ground. At least he was putting in an appearance despite the wind, as if trying to tell us that Spring is nearly here.
As I write this a Red Kite has just been seen flying over Gillfield Wood and on our January Bird Walk we had a skein of Pink-footed Geese fly over so who knows what might turn up on our next Bird and Butterfly Walk on Saturday May 4th. You do not have to be a member to come along to any of the events run by The Friends of Gillfield Wood and no experience is necessary. The events are advertised on the FoGW website and within the diary in this publication. Hope to see you, you will be made very welcome.