BIRD WALK 29 April 2017

What a strange week it had been weather wise; wind, sleet, snow, rain with a bit of sun occasionally breaking through.  Come the day of the walk, the Saturday, when there had been no prediction of rain, we woke up to a dull overcast morning, and as we gathered at the Scout Hut off Aldam Road at 0800, rain was lightly falling. 


However, despite the weather, it was an excellent turnout of members and non-members; twenty five in total, the highest attendance for one of our quarterly bird walks.  There was, as always, plenty of friendly chatter and laughing as we prepared for the off.  Then the beautiful rich song of a Blackbird from a nearby garden was heard and pointed out to the group as everyone fell duly silent to listen and enjoy.  This was accompanied by the delightful song of a Robin, so often heard but not always recognised.  Certainly two good starters to help members of the group learn their bird song if they so wished.


Then suddenly, the loud explosive song of a male Blackcap was detected. So often this bird sings from dense cover and is not always easy to watch singing for any length of time but on this occasion it remained on bare branches at the top of a large Ash tree for all to see.  Pleasingly everyone did get good views of this handsome warbler, greyish brown with its distinctive black cap. This bird had probably just arrived from a winter in Africa, a summer migrant; it was hopefully here to breed successfully in “our own” Gillfield Wood; what a nice thought. 


As the group moved slowly away from the Scout Hut, the trilling song of Wrens rang out from various places to our left and right.  And as we all stood together in a clearing, that well-known cooing of Woodpigeons could be heard.  It was here, as Blue Tits called and moved amongst the bushes, we had a small bird dart over our heads and when it returned on the same flight path in undulating fashion, its bullet-like shape was noted as was its short wings and blue-grey upperparts. Together these confirmed it was a Nuthatch.  As it was being explained that Nuthatches have a number of different calls and are the birds that can descend head-first down a tree, unlike Treecreepers, another tree loving species was heard to drum from a nearby tree.  It was a Great Spotted Woodpecker.  Although we got very close we just could not spot this elusive bird amongst the branches above our heads.  It even moved and drummed again in an adjacent tree, yet no-one managed to see it fly across the gap; that’s bird watching for you.


It was in this same clearing that we heard the distinctive and continuous “chiff-chaff” song of another early summer visitor as it worked its way through the tops of some trees; the song a wonderful sign of spring. This small bird was of course a Chiffchaff; a member of the leaf-warbler family; a Phylloscopus.  It is always a delight to watch this warbler; a restless feeder, only 11cm long, with grey brown upperparts and a lovely yellow tinge to the lighter colours below.


And so we moved on. We left behind Dunnock and Bullfinch calling and another Blackcap singing from the deep vegetation surrounding us, whilst one lucky member caught sight of a smart little Tree Sparrow high in an old Oak tree; this would be one of a handful of Tree Sparrows that seem to be just holding on in this local area. Our next stop found us watching a 

Blue Tit going to a nest box at the edge of the wood; the box being one of a dozen that have been erected by the Scouts. Hopefully it will successfully breed this season because Blue Tits and Great Tits had a hard time nationally rearing young last year due to unfavourable weather conditions.  Here we also watched a pair of colourful Mandarin Ducks waddle up the bank at the side of Totley Brook and settle down quietly together underneath a Hawthorn bush.  We could not but help wonder where they might be breeding in the wood this year.


As we stepped inside the wood a variety of common woodland birds were heard singing but suddenly everyone stopped and stared as a wonderful Jay flew into a tree next to us, you almost felt you could touch it. And then another one appeared close by. You didn’t need binoculars to appreciate this member of the Crow family with its pinkish-buff body colour, the blue and black in the wings and when it did move you could see the white rump.  No raucous call this time, just great views.


The song of Coal Tit, Goldcrest, Song Thrush and Mistle Thrush were heard, compared, discussed and added to our tally as we slowly walked the footpath though the wood; the Mistle Thush as usual was singing from the very top of a large Larch tree so it tested our neck muscles as we bent backwards to pick it out amongst the branches above our heads. Strongly marked with large spots on a puffed out chest, this bird was in full song.


By now the weather had improved so it was decided to continue the walk outside the wood and do a short circuit through the fields on the north side of the wood, that’s the Totley side, quite often referred to as the fields of Totley Hall.  The hope was to see some new species for the morning.  Immediately the call of Goldfinches was detected as they flew out of hedgerow trees and headed towards the wood; a good start. Then the metallic call and song of Chaffinches were heard. As our eyes scanned the new habitat around us a pair of Stock Doves was spotted in a hedge at the far end of the field we were in.  Smaller and slimmer than a Woodpigeon, their flapping pale grey wings, with no white markings in the wings, drew our attention to them.  Often overlooked, these birds of wooded farmland, are always lovely to see.  They nest in the holes of trees so are in competition with Little Owls that do similar.


As the clouds had now lifted, it was brighter and warmer so it had been mentioned there was every chance of seeing a bird of prey. And then sure enough, a cry went out…“Buzzard!”.  Before we knew it, with all eyes to the sky, one, two, four birds were “picked up” flying, drifting and soaring.  One of the birds was even being chased by a Carrion Crow above the east end of the wood; they twisted and turned in the sky, the Crow clearly wanting to move the Buzzard away from its territory. There was much excitement within the group as everyone had excellent views of one or more of these special birds that now hunt and breed successfully in our area.   


Moving on, the distinctive rattling call of Lesser Redpoll in flight was heard as a small party suddenly appeared from the wood to land in a large Oak tree by the side of our path.  It gave us a great opportunity to study these little finches through a telescope as they chattered and fed amongst the opening foliage.  Their yellow bills, red fore-crowns, white wing-bars and  heavily streaked bodies were noted and some adult males were picked out of the flock of thirty or more, as they have such a super pinkish-red flush to the breast.  It was also really nice to hear members of our group getting as excited to encounter these birds as they were to watch the Buzzards.  


Time was getting on, so once again we had do drag ourselves away and head on to our start point.  Needless to say we still had plenty more opportunities to see Great Spotted Woodpecker as we did hear their calls and more drumming.  However it was only when we were coming to the end of the walk that we were alerted to a number of short sharp “kick” calls and then we did manage to see two birds, almost certainly a pair, as they flew out into the open from the edge of the wood.  White, black and red flashed before us as both birds shot across the corner of the field and someone mentioned they had not realised just how quickly Woodpeckers can fly, especially when in a downward trajectory.


To make it a true Bird and Butterfly Walk, in the final stretch, it was pleasing to encounter a solitary Peacock Butterfly which landed on a grassy track in front of us; with wings wide open it was close enough for all to admire.  Certainly the weather had improved throughout the morning so it was a fitting end to the walk when this butterfly emerged to indicate sun and warmth and then a beautiful Swallow with long tail streamers shot over our heads as if to say “Don’t worry summer is on its way”.  All agreed it had been another very enjoyable walk. Out with nature and good company….a perfect start to the weekend!


Chris Measures


The next of our quarterly bird walks is planned for Saturday August 12th.  We will be meeting at 0800 at the Scout Hut off Aldam Road.  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  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 and Butterfly Walk

Another event that took place a little earlier in the year was the Bird and Butterfly Walk.  This got off to a great start because almost immediately those attending had gathered to look at a Little Owl.  This small bird was characteristically perched on a fence post at the edge of a field.  The light was good so all the distinctive features were noted and discussed; the size and shape, the colour and the beautiful patterns on the plumage; white spots on light grey-brown feathers.  And those alert yellow eyes staring back at you when its head flicked round.


If that was not enough, another Little Owl dropped out of a nearby tree and flew low along the top of the hedge to land in a large Oak tree.  This re-emphasised how small this owl actually is and just how short and rounded its wings are.  As we searched the Oak for more views of the owl, two Jays suddenly called raucously and briefly appeared in flight for all to see their shape and bright colours.


By this time a range of other birds had made their presence known.  So we were hearing and identifying Robin, Wren, Blue Tit and Dunnock as they called from the adjacent hedgerow.  In addition a Great Spotted Woodpecker was heard to call and was seen at the top of a distant tree.  It would not be the same if we did not get at least one sighting of this species on our quarterly walks in and around Gillfield Wood.  Another species that has been putting in an appearance during our recent walks is the Stock Dove and on this occasion we saw at least two perched on bare branches for everyone to study through the telescope.  The differences between this species and the bulkier Wood Pigeon were pointed out, and in flight it was noted the Stock Dove lacked the distinctive white wing bars that are very clearly present on a Wood Pigeon when it flies.


As we stood still and quietly soaked up the atmosphere on this mid- August morning it was a delight to find House Martins and Swallows flying above and in front of us, it was as if they had just appeared from nowhere.  We watched with interest as the House Martins, with their white rumps showing, chased insects above the tops of trees whilst the Swallows skimmed over hedges and the yellowing pasture collecting their food on the wing at a lower level.   This provided a perfect comparison in feeding behaviour and showed how fascinating nature is.


Eventually our walk found us strolling up the footpath towards Fanshawe Gate Hall.  Along the way we heard Buzzards calling and we then watched as two birds soared up high together.  We perhaps saw four in total but it is not always easy to count them as they drift in and out of sight.  One did however fly low over the woodland at the top of Shep’s Hill and, in so doing, put up a large flock of corvids, mainly Jackdaws.  As these flew around calling in confusion a Swift was seen to fly at speed above them and over our heads, a brilliant and unexpected sighting for this time of year.  No flapping of wings for this bird, it rapidly cut through the sky on a mission.


What an interesting morning, summer moving into autumn, colours changing, a rainbow in the sky, a late Swift and the gathering for departure of Swallows and House Martins.  Then there were the colourful fungi in the meadows and a Common Frog hopping in front of us along Fanshawe Gate Lane.  It was here we also had a small mixed flock of Goldfinches, Greenfinches and Chaffinches chattering away in flight as they moved about a stubble field feeding.   Young birds with adult birds and, to lift spirits even further, a lovely Speckled Wood butterfly resting in the sun.


Towards the end of the walk we did manage to visit another quiet sheltered area on the south side of the wood where a variety of shrubs and wild flowers grow and it was here we found a small number of butterflies.  These included Red Admiral, Green-veined White, Meadow Brown and a beautifully marked Comma.  And as they too rested in the sunlight a large green coloured dragonfly, with blue tips to the abdomen, zipped back and forth, twisting and turning and changing direction as it tried to catch insects.  It was a Southern Hawker; you could hear its wings beating and clipping the edges of leaves on trees and bushes as it searched for food.  There was so much for us to see and enjoy, a perfect setting to finish another lovely walk.


Chris Measures


The first Bird Walk of the New Year will be on Saturday January 20th.  Non-members as well as members are very welcome to come along.  We will be meeting at 0900 at the bottom of Totley Hall Lane, so why not make a note in your diaries and come and join us.  No experience is necessary and do not worry if you do not have binoculars you can still enjoy being with the group as we try to find some birds that are winter visitors and some that are residents in and around Gillfield Wood.  In the meantime Friends of Gillfield Wood take this opportunity to extend their very best wishes to all for Christmas and the New Year.

BIRD WALK 11 February 2017

It was a grey overcast morning when a small group of us gathered at the Scout Hut off Aldam Road.  The time, 0900; it was cold, wet and snow was in the air and lightly falling.  Not a great day for bird watching but all were keen to make the best of it.


As we waited for others to arrive a Robin sang quietly from a nearby hedge and a small party of Long-tailed Tits flitted through the thin branches of a tangled bush, making their clicking calls and lovely trills.  Before setting off on our walk west through the wood we decided to move carefully down to the edge of the brook.  Standing together on the bank of Totley Brook, and looking down stream we were able to get good views of a male Mandarin Duck quietly floating with a pair of Mallards on the fast flowing water.  The female Mandarin was probably close by but the male in perfect plumage at this time of year was rather special; strikingly colourful with red bill, white band above the eye and vivid orange on the face and in the “sails” that stick up like triangles at the rear of its back. “Mandarin”, a fitting name for such a duck that originates from South East Asia.  A very pleasing start to our walk. 


With Magpies and Woodpigeons making their presence known we also heard Jay, Blue Tit and House Sparrow calling.  And as we stood in a clearing a couple of black Carrion Crows passed low over our heads.  Here we listened to the all too short, yet delicate song of a Dunnock whilst two Bullfinches were heard to emit their contact call, and as one broke cover we watched as it flew by us, its chunky shape and white rump clearly visible.  Then a different bird made a half-hearted attempt at singing from a little further back in the undergrowth; it produced just a few notes but it was still possible to identify those clear repetitive notes as those of a Song Thrush.  On a bright sunny morning it would almost certainly have been in full song, but not today.  A little further along the footpath we were on, a small flock of Goldfinches were found perched in the wind at the top of a tall tree.  Their upright stance, distinctive gold wing bars, fine bill and red and white facial pattern were noted, even though at a distance.


Our next new bird for the walk was somewhat larger.  It was a Grey Heron, standing motionless in a field on the south side of the wood.  It certainly looked bedraggled in the rain but we managed to get great views through a telescope as we stood inside the wood sheltering.  The bird’s long thick powerful bill and that staring eye really did stand out through the close up lens and prompted much discussion within the group.  As the Heron walked silently off through the long wet grass we continued on our walk through the wood.


Our next special encounter was hearing and then finding Great Spotted Woodpeckers.  They were seen interacting at the tops of some trees. Flying, landing and calling. “Were there two or three?” was the question.  It was difficult to say as they were constantly on the move and making a lot of noise; they certainly gave the impression there was a dispute over territory.  At this time of year one can hear them drumming on suitable branches and we were not disappointed to hear one drumming away in the distance.  A substitute for song, a claim on territory, a way of attracting a mate and for us, an uplifting moment, a sign of approaching spring.


Then to add to the excitement a large flock of Siskins suddenly appeared above our heads to feed high up in the tall Alders that stand so majestically along the banks of our brook. These birds are tiny, smaller than Goldfinches, and they regularly feed in an inverted position.  They have distinctive forked tails, streaked underparts and are a perfect greenish yellow in colour.  Listening to their excited chattering and their wheezing calls as they moved about the tops of the trees feeding was a lovely moment for the group.  And despite the rain falling on upward pointed binoculars and telescope, good views were had of these obliging birds because it was possible to get two or three birds in our view finders at the same time.


It was in this same area of the wood, a little later, that we were able to hear and watch Coal Tits feeding in the Larches.  We also watched here, delightful Goldcrests searching and feeding amongst the ivy that covers many trees in the area, ivy being that ideal habitat for invertebrates to over-winter in.


Our search for birds continued.  This time a request had been made for us to try and find a Little Owl.  On our last bird walk in November we had been lucky enough to find this small owl peering out of the hole in an Oak tree; its beautiful yellow eyes kept a close eye on us as we studied him or her from a suitable distance so as not to disturb.  An exciting moment for all and not the first time we have secured good views of this species on one of our walks but unfortunately no such luck this time.  But as we searched fields and trees on the north side of the wood we were rewarded with over one hundred Redwings feeding on the ground in one of the fields.  Great views of these winter visitors were had as they probed the pasture for suitable food items. Song Thrush size, these smart members of the Thrush family have a distinctive white stripe (supercilium) above the eye and a rusty-red smudge on the flanks.  This rusty-red extends on to the underwing and was clearly visible when the birds took to the wing to land in trees near to us.


Although we had much more to see and talk about: Mistle Thrush, Fieldfare and Starlings, it was the flashing sight of a Sparrowhawk alighting in a tree that grabbed our full attention.  As we searched to get a better view of the bird perched it “took off” in attacking mode, flying fast and low across field and dry-stone wall, putting up the Redwings it had perhaps targeted for its next meal.  It was unsuccessful in its quest; nevertheless we had excellent views of the slate grey-blue upperparts and when one excited member of the group said “Did you see the lovely rufous colours on the breast?” it added further confirmation to the fact that we had seen a male.


A perfect moment to take home and savour over a warm cup of tea.  All agreed, another successful bird walk even though the weather left a bit to be desired.  And as we said our goodbyes at the Scout Hut we managed to see another Sparrowhawk circling over the houses of Totley before it slowly drifted and disappeared out of view.


Chris Measures


The next of our quarterly bird walks is planned for Saturday April 29th.  We will be meeting at 0800 at the Scout Hut off  Aldam Road.  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  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.

This site is sponsored by the Cross Scythes Pub, Restaurant and Hotel. For luxurious accommodation, fine dining or just a quiet drink with friends in the heart of Totley, visit our website at or call (01142) 236 0204