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.
Bird Walk 27 July 2019
You can never be quite sure just how good a bird walk in summer will be because the main part of the breeding season for birds has come to an end, their singing on territory has diminished and so many birds have dispersed.
Nevertheless we usually find the field at the back of the Rowan Tree Dell houses quite rewarding and so it proved to be on this clear warm morning. Goldfinches were heard calling overhead and then seen in flight on a number of occasions while House Sparrows, Blue Tits and Chaffinches moved quietly about the nearby hedges and bushes.
We did hope to see some Tree Sparrows in this area, where they have bred successfully for the first time this year, but they proved elusive. However we were rewarded with good views of two Nuthatches moving between the trees with their loud, excited calls continuously being heard.
Standing in this field, on this area of higher ground, provides you with expansive views above houses and trees so it always gives us a chance to see something special, and on this particular occasion it did. There was a sudden cry of “Sparrowhawk” from one member of our group; this immediately drew our attention to a bird gliding across the sky, not too high up, with long tail and blunt-tipped wings out-spread. Hot in pursuit was a Carrion Crow which continued to harass the Sparrowhawk so that a minor dog-fight took place, with both birds twisting and tumbling as they moved out of sight. This would not be the only encounter we would have with birds of prey on this walk but it was certainly a very enjoyable start.
Our attention was then drawn to a sharp “tchick” alarm call as a Great-spotted Woodpecker came over our heads in low undulating flight to provide excellent views. As Starling, Robin and Dunnock were added to our list of birds encountered, one member of the group noticed a female Blackcap skulking in one of the many Hawthorn bushes in that area, but despite our best efforts we unfortunately could not find this small warbler again for all to see; such is birding.
As we dropped down from the field into the east end of Gillfield Wood to continue our walk, time was taken out to look at one of the nest boxes that has been erected there. It was pointed out that mud had been added near to the entrance hole of the box and on the underside of the lid. This was the handy-work of a Nuthatch that has used the box for nesting in this year; they quite often reduce, to their satisfaction, the size of a hole in a box or tree by plastering mud around the entrance. After this short stop, we moved through the wood to the sound of Woodpigeons and Wrens calling until the distant calls of young Sparrowhawks were heard. This helped decide our next move. We climbed one of the stiles to exit the wood and have better views of the trees and fields on the north side in case we could see any Sparrowhawk activity. As we watched a party of House Martins feeding above the trees the young Sparrowhawks were heard again, frantically calling. As we turned to look, we saw three young birds flying amongst the tops of the trees, landing and moving; in sight, out of sight. As this was happening our attention was drawn to an adult Sparrowhawk flying purposefully away from the scene, presumably having delivered a tasty item of prey for one of the young ones. It was certainly a few minutes of great excitement for the group and we even had another Great-spotted Woodpecker put in an appearance.
Our next steps took us back through the wood and up onto the south side so that we found ourselves standing in a field just below Fanshawe Gate Hall with lovely views of the wood and the surrounding countryside. Here, with Great Tit, Coal Tit and Long-tailed Tit calling and moving through a large Oak tree near to us, we heard the distinctive mewing of a Common Buzzard. It did not take us long to locate the bird, only to find that it was in actual fact three well-grown young Buzzards just a field away from us. Unlike the young Sparrowhawks that seemed to prefer cover within the wood, these Buzzards were flying around in the open and landing on bare branches for all of our group to have amazing views, made even clearer through the telescope we had to hand.
And if this was not enough the faint “huitt” call of Chiffchaffs were heard and two birds were watched feeding in the long grasses by a wire fence. The light was perfect and despite how close we were to them they continued to feed unperturbed for us all to get very good views.
By now it did seem a long time since the start of our walk when we had managed to see a colourful squawking Jay and had counted fourteen Swifts flying high in the sky above our heads; so we all agreed it was now time to take a steady walk back, “without getting distracted!” someone remarked with a smile. We all knew this would be difficult to achieve and so it proved. We had no sooner started working our way down Fanshawe Gate Lane than we had to stop to admire young Swallows balancing together on a telegraph wire. Who could have resisted taking a few minutes out to watch them alighting the wire and preening; no doubt getting ready to start their long journey south in the following days.
It was here we also had a Woodpecker fly along the lane, by the side of us. It landed out of sight in a large Ash tree. Despite a fleeting glimpse, its silhouette certainly had the appearance of a Green Woodpecker. Could it have been? Oh, if only we had got a better look at it, or it had called. Well, that’s birding for you. We will have to wait for another day to add such a lovely species to our list of birds seen on our quarterly walks.
As dark clouds moved in and rain started to fall our birding ended and our strides became a little quicker. With hoods up, all were chatting away and reflecting on another great Bird Walk and how lucky we had been with the weather.
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 and no experience is necessary. Give it a try, you will always be made most welcome. The events are advertised on the FoGW website and within the diary in this publication. Our next Bird Walk is on Saturday November 2nd.
Credit to Andy Brewster for taking & providing the bird photos.
Bird Walk 4 May 2019
“Nuthatch at its nest hole!” someone called out. We always wonder what we might be lucky enough to see on these quarterly bird walks. Here we were, meeting at the bottom of Totley Hall Lane at 8am, and watching above our heads a Nuthatch, with blue-grey back, regularly flying onto and edging its way up the trunk of a mature Ash tree to disappear into a hole at the bend of a large branch. There was much chatting and excitement amongst our group of twenty as we gathered and watched this smart looking bird.
These walks are always an opportunity to identify bird song, so before climbing the wooden stile into the first field, the short unmusical wheezing “song” of a Greenfinch was pointed out as were the repetitive notes of a Song Thrush; the latter bird must have been singing in a garden on the other side of the playing fields yet we could still hear it clearly. A lot nearer to us a Dunnock and a Robin were singing and then the explosive song of a Blackcap captured our attention. Our first summer visitor or perhaps it had over-wintered in this country; no matter, it was still lovely to hear this small warbler enthusiastically delivering its long tuneful repertoire that can be somewhat scratchy at times.
It was time to move on but not before Long-tailed Tits were heard trilling and then seen moving through the higher branches of nearby trees. And then suddenly there was a shout and a Heron was seen twisting and turning awkwardly in flight as a Carrion Crow chased it away from the area. What a terrific start to our morning.
As we then crossed the first field, Woodpigeons were seen feeding in the fields around while an occasional squawking Starling passed overhead. But best of all was the sighting of a few Swallows zipping low across the fields between the grazing sheep, no doubt picking up insects disturbed from the grass. These were our second summer visitors for the morning, much to everyone’s delight. All the way from Southern Africa they were making the most of this sunny morning, albeit there was a chill factor brought in by the light wind.
Continuing along the footpath, Goldfinch were seen and heard in flight and a Chaffinch was heard to call and then sing with that distinctive flourish of notes at the end; a good bird song to learn if you are just starting out, as is the song of a Chiffchaff. Although we could hear at a distance a Chiffchaff singing away in the corner of a field it was proving a little difficult to find. However, as we searched the branches of the leaf covered trees someone spotted something light in colour, low down in the Hawthorn hedge. There it was, the elusive bird sitting on a bit of wire fencing, facing the sun. No sooner found and identified than it came into a Holly bush, a lot closer to us, for people to appreciate its brownish-green appearance with yellow and buff tinges and its small size, only 10 to 12 centimetres; then it was off along the hedge, feeding whilst throwing out a bit of that characteristic song, “chiiff-chaff, chiff-chaff”. Another welcome visitor to our land, Chiffchaff always brightens up our spring and summer. So, summer visitor number three.
As we moved away from this spot and a little closer to Gillfield Wood a Common Buzzard was seen soaring and drifting over our wood, its broad up-turned wings creating that noticeable shallow V shape; its fan-shaped tail was also visible. We then moved into the wood where the fragrance of bluebells drifted in the breeze and the dappled sunlight danced across the blanket of blue. It was a perfect time to appreciate the wild flower spectacle as we continued our walk in search of one or two more species of bird.
At various points in the wood, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Robin and Blackbird were heard and seen, and it was pleasing to note the good number of Wrens blasting out their song from the undergrowth and making full claim to their territories. Several more Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps were also heard in full song to add to the atmosphere of the walk. As we eventually exited the wood at the east end, we had perfect views of a male Bullfinch. Unlike so many times when you just see the white rump of the bird as it flies away, this Bullfinch remained feeding on a low branch in the sun for all to have really good views. With black crown, grey back and a bright red “bulging with pride” breast, it was in immaculate condition.
To complete our circular walk we turned right at the Scout Hut and headed up towards Woodthorpe Hall, but not before catching sight of two Rooks as they lazily flew south over the wood, their distinctive long grey bills in evidence. Our walk up White’s Lane found us standing together by a five-bar gate listening to a Goldcrest singing; not everyone is able to “pick up” on the thin high pitch and that beautiful trill at the end of the song. Then, another Goldcrest sang from a Pine tree, even further away, demonstrating just how far such a pretty song from such a small creature can travel and be heard. And while this was happening some members of the party were watching attractive and very active Long-tailed Tits in nearby scrub; they were almost certainly nesting nearby.
As the walk drew to a close we found ourselves standing at the top of Shep’s Hill overlooking the valley with fields, hedgerows and our Gillfield Wood laid out below us. An ideal site to watch for birds of prey and as we scanned, a Kestrel was seen hovering over the next field and one person remarked on how beautiful the deep chestnut colour of the upper-wings were. And just as this bird disappeared from sight behind a large Oak tree a Common Buzzard appeared near to us for a few seconds as it drifted into tree cover and perched. A splendid end to the morning which everyone thoroughly enjoyed; all we needed to do now was wander gently back to Totley Hall Lane, chatting all the way of course.
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. Our next Bird Walk is on Saturday July 27th.
Credit to Andy Brewster for the wren and to Stuart Davies for the nuthatch photos.
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.