BIRD WALK 6 August 2016

A blue sky and a bright sunny warm day; what could be better for a summer walk through and around the boundaries of Gillfield Wood.  There was certainly a sense of anticipation as a group of 16 of us gathered at 0830 on Totley Hall Lane that Saturday morning.

 

As we took the footpath that diagonally crosses the first field, the sharp call of a Great Spotted Woodpecker was immediately heard and then the bird was located; it was on the branch of a dead Ash tree. It adjusted its position and as everyone admired its black and white markings it took to the wing and with undulating flight, for all to see, it crossed the field and landed in the depths of one of the large Oak trees that grace the centre of the field.  A great start.

 

Magpies, Woodpigeons and half a dozen Jackdaws were in the hedgerow trees nearby and then a Carrion Crow joined them, landing high up on one of the trees, enabling the group to compare its shape and size with that of the smaller dark grey Jackdaws which also have a light grey neck and nape and a much shorter bill.

 

Our attention was then drawn to a butterfly at the side of the path.  Early morning and not keen to fly, it had wings closed and the forewings tightly drawn down and hidden behind the hindwings. But its small size and the pattern on its hindwings ruled out Meadow Brown. On close inspection, which is always good when people are trying to get to grips with butterfly identification, it proved to be a Gatekeeper.  A super name for a butterfly; we should have known it was “a keeper of the gate” as it was next to two five-barred gates!  These butterflies can of course be found in many different habitats but they are often found along hedgerows and near farm gates.  They are also known as Hedge Browns and when the forewings are visible two white pupils in the black eye-spots on the wings can be seen, which helps confirm identification. This happened later on in the walk when we saw two more of this species. 

 

It was in this same area that Little Owls had been seen recently but unfortunately, despite ideal conditions, they did not put in an appearance this particular morning.  No doubt they were enjoying the sun from a position hidden from our searching eyes.  Further along the path Blue Tits and Great Tits were heard and seen whilst a small flock of Goldfinches flew overhead calling.  Then two more Great Spotted Woodpeckers appeared together at the very top of some larches in Gillfield Wood.  At the same time a good number of House Martins were seen feeding on the wing just above the trees of the wood and their lovely chattering calls could clearly be heard.  They always sound full of excitement and conversation.

 

And as we moved towards the entrance into the wood a Jay was seen to fly quietly along the north edge of the wood and disappear into the foliage; its colours and white rump were noted by all.  This bird was suspected of making the perfect call of a Buzzard a little earlier; they are excellent mimics of this particular call so don’t always look to the skies when you hear the call of a Buzzard, it may be a Jay sitting in a nearby tree!

 

Walking slowly through the wood there was a sense of tranquillity as the sunlight shone through the trees and glistened on the brook below.  The calls of many birds including Robin, Wren and Coal Tits added to the atmosphere.  Stepping out of the wood below Fanshaw Gate, a Speckled Wood butterfly was found at rest in the sun, just as a flock of Tits including Long-tailed Tits moved noisily amongst the branches of nearby Silver Birches and Oaks.  It proved extremely difficult to get good views of any of these birds, but this is so often the case at this time of year when the trees are still in full leaf and the birds seek food on the underside of the leaves.

 

As our group moved to higher ground a Raven was heard to give out its distinctive croaking call as it flew over the wood and fields to the west.  No-one managed to get a good view of this bird either, but fortunately, reasonable views of this large corvid were secured later on, as one flew across open skies above our heads.  It is not unusual to see this species flying over Gillfield Wood these days; they must be breeding not too far away. They are always such great birds to hear and see.

 

The group’s attention was soon drawn to Swallows skimming over the wildflower meadows and pastures below Fanshaw Gate; a perfect summer’s moment.  And as we got closer, young Swallows were found to be perched on the wire of a boundary fence, and to our delight, they were being fed by the parent birds.  We all had tremendous views of all the frenetic activity; the young rapidly flickering their wings, stretching their necks and pleading loudly with beaks agape whilst the parent birds zoomed in with food, hovered to feed their young and then zoomed off again.  

 

Everyone in the group was certainly enjoying themselves particularly as butterflies such as Large Whites, Meadow Browns and Small Tortoiseshells were resting on thistles, knapweed and grasses at the side of the pasture where we were standing.  As if this was not enough a young Buzzard was heard plaintively calling nearby and was seen in lazy flight as it left its perch, and then a Kestrel was spotted soaring high in the sky above the wood.  Within minutes the same or another Kestrel crossed our vision and landed in a tree on the far side of the meadow.  A telescope was quickly set up on a tripod so each member of the group could get good views of this bird as it perched in the sun, and even better views were then had of the Swallows being fed.

 

The telescope was put to good use on two more occasions shortly afterwards.  The first was to watch a Nuthatch calling, out in the open, at the top of a tall tree by Owler Lee Farm.  The second was to “bring closer” a group of four, perhaps five, Red Deer grazing in a field below Storth House; we were standing by the wall of Woodthorpe Hall so some distance away, nevertheless we still had good views of these fine looking creatures.  

 

Wildflowers and more butterflies were found and admired as the walk drew to a close, and our bird list increased when young Sparrowhawks were heard calling from the depth of some trees below Woodthorpe Hall.  Overall, far more species were encountered on this walk than we had expected, but one final surprise awaited us.  It was a large orange-brown butterfly with dark markings on the upper wings.  It suddenly appeared, gliding towards us along a grassy track between tall Rosebay Willowherbs; it was a fritillary, a Dark Green Fritillary!  A new species for Gillfield Wood, a “first” for the wood, and everyone was able to share the experience as it settled to feed on nearby flower-heads.  A brilliant end to an excellent walk.  

 

Chris Measures 

 

The next of our quarterly bird walks is planned for Saturday November 26th.  We will be meeting this time at 0900 at the bottom of Totley Hall Lane by the metal gate that leads into the first field.  It is “come and go” as you please and don’t worry if you don’t have a pair of binoculars they are certainly not essential, so we hope to see you there.

 

Please remember that you will be made very welcome on any of the events run by Friends of Gillfield Wood and you do not have to be a member to attend.  If you happen to be interested in one of our outdoor events, no experience is necessary to take part, so do come along and join us.  Just check out the diary of FOGW events in this publication or go onto and explore our website www.friendsofgillfieldwood.com.  You will find that we have indoor meetings in the library when we invite guest speakers who usually present illustrated talks.  In addition we have conservation work mornings on a regular basis in the wood for anyone wishing to get involved.

BIRD WALK 23 April 2016

After a week of sunshine with temperatures in the teens, the predicted cold air from the arctic descended over much of the country for the weekend of our bird walk.  Gritter lorries were out locally the night before the event and then frost and a chilly four degrees greeted us the morning of the walk.  So one could not help but wonder just how any birds arriving here for our summer would be faring, bearing in mind the heat they would have been experiencing over previous months in their winter quarters.

 

We need not have worried, there it was, a brilliant Swallow, showing red throat and long tail streamers as it flashed, high above our heads, across white cumulous clouds in a bright blue sky.  It was our first Swallow of the year, our first migrant!  You could not help but feel that it was a special fly-past, just for us, as this long distance traveller must have recently arrived all the way from Africa.  An excellent start to the walk; it caused much excitement as we gathered by the Scout Hut at 0800.

 

And as we listened to a Song Thrush emitting its distinctive repetitious song, a female Bullfinch arrived at the top of a large conifer tree, with twig in beak, clearly in the process of building her nest somewhere nearby.  A true sign of spring.  As the songs of Wren, Robin, Wood Pigeon and Great Tit were pointed out to help those attending acquaint themselves with different bird songs, a Grey Wagtail flew, just above our heads, in typical undulating flight and in passing it gave out its “zi-zi” call.  This bird was almost certainly following the course of the brook in an attempt to find a quiet stretch of water; its preferred habitat for feeding, and hopefully breeding in this case. Now that would be good.

 

Moving along, the group soon arrived in the open area edged by a backdrop of Blackthorn.  These bushes were in full flower; a beautiful mass of white on a crisp sunny morning.  Here our second summer visitor was heard singing from deep cover, it was a male Blackcap.  This small warbler is approximately 14 cm in size and has a strong chattering song, but this species proved elusive to see this day even though we heard at least five others on the walk. This scrubby area is also good for singing Chiffchaff at this time of year, but they remained silent as we painstakingly searched the tops of the trees and bushes surrounding us.  Perhaps they were taking the opportunity to feed up on this cold morning.  Anyway, a number of Blue Tits did move through the branches calling and feeding; and a Hedge Sparrow (otherwise known as a Dunnock) put in a brief appearance to sing.  Nuthatches made their presence known as they called and actively worked the mature trees nearby and a charm of Goldfinches did their tinkling call as they passed overhead.  It was noticeable that things went a little quiet when the sun disappeared behind the clouds, but fortunately that was not for long.  

 

The group continued to work together as usual, everyone chipping in with observations or questions thus creating a great friendly atmosphere.  But by now, standing still in such cold conditions was proving a little too much, so we quietly walked a little further along the footpath in the hope we would get views of the now singing Chiffchaff.  To our delight two of these warblers were seen flitting through low branches next to us.  At first they were making their soft “huitt” seeping call, a contact call to remain in touch with each other, and then one moved up through the branches to ring out its “chiff-chaff” “chiff-chaff” song.  It was making a clear statement of holding territory; this small brownish-green warbler from wintering grounds in distant Senegal perhaps, was a delight to see with its pale super-cilium stripe above the eye. We also noted the occasional flicking of the tail, a characteristic of the species.  Perfect.  In the same location, another elusive Blackcap sang from deep cover and a Great Spotted Woodpecker called from behind us.  We inspected holes drilled in Alders and waited patiently, very patiently, but apart from the Woodpecker’s strong “kick” call from high up in the branches this bird too, proved difficult to see.

  

At least those attending were having the opportunity to get to grips with calls and songs even if the odd bird was not “playing ball” by putting in a full appearance.  There was certainly more species to follow, and so it proved to be as we immediately found House Sparrows and Tree Sparrows chattering away from within and on of top their usual stand of bushes at the back of the Rowan Tree houses.  The telescopes were out so all could get good views but on this occasion they were not really needed as the birds were very obliging, moving closer to us so that good views were had for all to enjoy and one could take time to study the distinctive head patterns of the two species.  And pleasingly another Nuthatch was active in this area as it flew back and forth across the field and then perched out on the end of a long bare branch near to us and sang its heart out for all to see and hear.

 

As we descended this field a male Mandarin Duck was seen to fly along the brook below us and then it appeared again immediately afterwards, this time flying at the same level but in the opposite direction, as if it had forgotten something.  Female Mandarin Ducks with young, just out the nest, have been seen along the brook in our wood in the last few years so there is certainly a good chance the female, in this instance, was sitting on a clutch of eggs inside the hole of a nearby tree.  She alone incubates the eggs and raises the young, so no idea what the male had forgotten!  

 

Into the wood we walked, spending a few moments to admire the white flush of Wood Anemones and to inspect a little closer the greens and yellows of the bed of Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage that was growing at the side of the path.  It was still “people quiet” in the wood, so it was no surprise for us to disturb a Grey Heron from its fishing; it was seen to lazily and silently rise from the brook on those huge down-curved wings and disappear through the trees.

 

Staying inside the wood we totted up another four singing Chiffchaff which was very pleasing, and of course more Blackcaps were heard.  Blue Tits, Great Tits, Coal Tits and Long-tailed Tits were also seen and on most occasions their songs and calls first attracted our attention to their presence in the branches above us.  And although a Chaffinch was heard to call we could not help notice the lack of singing Chaffinches in our wood this particular morning.  But at least we did hear a Goldcrest singing from an ivy covered tree.  Its charming song is too high pitched for all to hear, and it ends in a delicate trill befitting of such a tiny leaf warbler; we are so lucky to have Goldcrests residing and breeding in our wood.  This particular bird eventually fell silent, to no doubt concentrate on feeding amongst the ivy, but as we turned for home we heard the evocative bubbling call of a Curlew from the south side of the wood. And as we wandered back, with beds of opening Bluebells on either side of us, a cock Pheasant called out loudly on the north side of the wood.  Could he be a distant relative of the Pheasants that were once fed and reared in this wood many years ago?  Now that’s a nice thought.

 

On exiting the wood we were rewarded with a male Sparrowhawk gliding quickly away from a chasing flock of small birds, before it circled above the fields on the other side of the wood.  The agitated calls of these small birds drew our attention to this magnificent bird of prey otherwise we could quite easily have missed him.  So that made a solid thirty-two bird species for the morning.  And as the sun had by now created some warmth in sheltered spots, butterflies disturbed from resting positions on the ground were to be seen to take to the wing and then come to rest again.  We were thus able to study up close the bright markings on the delicate wings of Small Tortoiseshells and Commas.  An excellent finale. 

 

As we departed our separate ways, at the end of another successful walk, one could not help wonder what other special encounters with nature await us in our wood in the weeks ahead. Spring, without doubt, has now arrived despite the cold.

 

Chris Measures

 

Please remember that you will be made very welcome on any of the events run by Friends of Gillfield Wood and you do not have to be a member to attend.  If you happen to be interested in one of our outdoor events, no experience is necessary to take part, so do come along and join us.  Just check out the diary of FOGW events in this publication or go onto and explore our website www.friendsofgillfieldwood.com. You will find that we have indoor meetings in the library when we invite guest speakers who usually present illustrated talks.  In addition we have conservation work mornings on a regular basis in the wood for anyone wishing to get involved.

 

The next of our quarterly bird walks is planned for Saturday August 6th.  We will be meeting again at 0800 but this time at the bottom of Totley Hall Lane by the metal gate that leads into the first field.  It is “come and go” as you please and don’t worry if you don’t have a pair of binoculars they are certainly not essential, so we hope to see you there. 

Bird Walk February 6th 2016

Not quite the wash out we thought, this being our first Bird Walk of the new year.  Will we see any birds? Rain was predicted for the whole morning.  Nine intrepid members met at the Scout Hut at 0900 hours, and it was drizzling from the start.  One member had heard a Tawny Owl calling near All Saints church at 0600 hours and two other members had noted Collared Doves calling from roof tops as they walked to the meeting point, passing on their way the rookery near Green Oak Park and a respectable fifty Starlings chattering away at the tops of trees close by.  So those members at least had made a good start to their species list for the day.

 

As we gathered together, a Song Thrush was heard singing from the top of a conifer nearby.  This was the first of a very pleasing seven we heard on the walk, so it would appear they like to try to claim territory early in the season if these are resident birds, and rain does not seem to put them off.  None of them were singing loudly but their song was easily recognisable because Song Thrushes repeat the same group of notes two to four times.  And then, in the bushes nearby, we watched Blue Tits, Great Tits and a small flock of Long-tailed Tits flitting though the branches in search of food whilst Robins were heard and seen in several locations.

 

As we moved into an open area more of the same were seen in Blackthorn bushes after we watched a solitary Heron pass over the houses behind, slowly flapping its huge down curved wings as it went.  Perhaps it had visited someone’s pond at dawn or it may have been feeding in the rain sodden fields where we were to see during our walk, another two Herons arise and take flight.  Back to the Blackthorns, where three members of our group did manage to briefly see a pair of Bullfinches showing their distinctive white rumps as they skimmed away over the high bushes before disappearing into the dense vegetation.

 

Arriving on higher ground behind the Rowan Tree houses we then managed to see a good number of Chaffinches and Greenfinches, together with a mixed flock of Blue Tits and Great Tits, as they moved quietly through the Hawthorn hedgerow at the edge of the field.  House Sparrow, Starling and Goldfinch were noted in this area and then there was a call from one of our group as he drew our attention to two Redwings flying swiftly by us at eye level and their call in flight confirmed the identification.

 

The rain persisted.  Visibility was quite poor now and as binoculars “steamed up” and became difficult to use, we made our way into the wood in the hope it would be a little drier amongst the trees.  It was, and although we did hear a small flock of Jackdaws pass overhead calling, sightings of woodland birds were few a far between as they tended to call from deep cover at the edges of the wood.  Nevertheless we carried on through the wood checking out various areas before moving out onto the fields on the south side of the wood where a Kestrel was braving the conditions and was seen to glide over the old pastures and then perch in a distant tree.  Blackbirds together with more finches and tits were found in this area before the strong song of a Mistle Thrush caught our attention, it was coming from a hedgerow tree below Fanshaw Gate and four of these birds were then seen in flight with at least one making its rattling call before landing in a nearby field.  They have this typical upright fashion, a proud stance, and those rounded black spots showed clearly on its breast and belly.

 

As we progressed along the lane to Woodthorpe Hall a number of Blackbirds flew across our path calling and more were seen at the foot of a hedgerow bordering the grounds of the Hall.  Numbers of this species increase in the winter when Blackbirds from further north or the continent arrive in our area. You may have noticed this if you put food out for them in your garden at this time of year. We then had close views of two more Redwings, with Starlings in attendance, as they perched at the top of a tree.  It was pleasing to have the time to look at the shape, size and lovely markings of these beautiful Redwings before we and they moved on.  Our route was to take us down White Lane to our starting point.

 

This last part of our walk gave us brief views of a tiny Coal Tit and a minute elusive Goldcrest, both searching for sustenance in the cold wet weather.  How do they survive?  The temperature had not risen much above five degrees all morning and it goes without saying that we humans were all by now looking forward to getting to our homes where dry clothes, a warm drink and hot food awaited and where we could reflect on a good walk, good company and “a better than anticipated” list of bird species seen.

 

Chris Measures

 

Please see the diary at the back of this publication for future outdoor and indoor events run by the Friends of Gillfield Wood.  The next Bird Walk is set for Saturday 23 April when we hope for better weather and perhaps a Chiffchaff singing. We will meet at the Scout Hut again and it will be at the slightly earlier time of 0800 hours.  You do not have to be a member to take part.  No experience is necessary and if you don’t have binoculars please do not worry, we will just be very pleased to have you come along. 

 

In the meantime, if you get a few minutes, pop into the library during April and have a look at the small display we have erected there regarding Gillfield Wood.

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