In the notes below you can click on the name of the birds highlighted in blue to see Bird Identification page from the RSPB's website.
BIRD WALK 17 May 2014
A group of us met for an 0800 start at the east end of Gillfield Wood, just near to the Scout Hut. As we enjoyed a chat in the early morning sun we were urgently called to observe a Nuthatch working its way up, down and around a road side tree. There it was low down and at close quarters, excellent views to get the walk officially started. We then had recently arrived Swifts flying overhead calling, and as we looked up to see them we had two Rooks fly over, with their noticeable long grey beaks. They were flying towards fields near Mickley Lane to feed having presumably just left the Rookery next to Green Oak Park .
As we returned and stood near the Scout Hut we saw BlueTit and Robin and we could hear Wren and Blackbird singing while Woodpigeon called from trees nearby. We detoured slightly to the bridge over the brook at this point, to see if we could see the Kingfisher which had put in an appearance here only a few days before, but no such luck for us today.
Walking slowly along the main footpath towards the wood we had a Great Spotted Woodpecker in bounding flight. We could see its red vent as it flew over our heads. We then identified a Green Veined White Butterfly settled on Stitchwort as we listened to a Chiffchaff calling from the top of an Oak tree. Then as we moved into the open area along that route, a Hedge Sparrow (Dunnock) sang from the depth of Blackthorn bushes and in this area we also noted Greenfinch, Goldfinch, House Sparrow and Long Tailed Tit.
As we left this area we could hear a Blackcap singing but even though it moved about it proved difficult to pin down for good views, but not to worry, we did manage to hear this warbler in several more locations throughout the wood and we certainly had good views on one occasion.
Moving into the next field, the one before the main wood itself, a Great Spotted Woodpecker called loudly and then put in another fly over to confirm our recognition of the call. Shortly after we were treated to another bird, same species, calling and flying into the wood to go to its nest hole, to feed young we assumed. This was not the first year it had used this tree as its nest site because we could clearly see more holes above in a line up the trunk, well worn round holes it had excavated for nesting purposes in previous years, as they do.
We picked up Nuthatch calling as well in this part of the ancient woodland and a member of the party pointed out the call of Bullfinch. We were doing well for finches today because we also heard the call of Chaffinch on a number of occasions.
Our attention was then drawn to the top of a larch where Magpies had built their nest; quite a mess but you could just see the roof of small thin branches they had added as part of their usual construction. With our eyes still looking upwards we were then treated to the elusive Jay quietly hopping through high branches as it approached its newly built nest in the very top of a pine tree. And here we heard the high pitched call of a Goldcrest and with a bit of searching we had great views of it feeding in ivy clad trees nearby. This was not the only Goldcrest we heard on the walk but the others were too high up in the larches to get good views.
A variety of bird song including Great Tit, Robin, Chaffinch and Wren accompanied us through the wood and Coal Tits could be heard in the larches. We also managed to see Speckled Wood Butterfly along the footpath as we admired the abundance of Bluebells. Pleasingly Wood Sorrel flowers were just emerging against their fresh green leaves, a lovely sight in dappled sunlight. As we crossed the brook to leave the wood and ascend the hill up to Fanshaw Gate one of our party pointed out that a Song Thrush was singing and we stood and listened to it repeating its notes loud and clear; perfect. This was when we also had a male Blackcap performing for us by singing out in the open at the top of a Hawthorn bush; a little bit special in the sunlight.
As we watched this, Orange Tip Butterflies flew around us in the wet part of this old pasture. We continued to walk slowly up the hill to our chosen spot to look back over the wood and out to Totley Moss moorland. A picture perfect day, so much green, with blue sky above. It was then a Buzzard put in an appearance and was seen soaring over the wood, low enough to show us its underwing markings, and then we spotted a Sparrowhawk circling much higher.
It was 1030 as we made our way back down the hill to the wood but not before we had seen several Swallows, a Kestrel hovering plus another Jay feeding in the field next to us. It had been an excellent walk and we were all really pleased at what we had found, heard and seen. Crow and Mistle Thrush and calling Pheasant were added to our list but we saved the best until last. As we left the east end of the wood and we were watching Robins flitting about feeding on the ground near the brook the blue flash of a Kingfisher was seen as it left its perch. Creeping forward we found it had only moved a short distance along the brook and was again perched. This time it was looking towards us with its orange red breast clearly visible as we stared in excitement through the foliage. We saw it once more in flight, a blue flash, what a thrill and what an end to a great walk. Luck was on our side today.
BIRD AND BUTTERFLY WALK 2 August 2014
Three weeks of sun and the ground is cracking open it is so dry. But the weather is changing and we have been assured heavy rain will fall at the weekend, in particular on Saturday August 2nd. So the question is “Do Friends of Gillfield Wood cancel their walk planned for that morning?”. It was not looking good but cancelling was not really an option.
The nine people who risked the weather and turned up at the Scout Hut at 0900 hours felt they had made the right decision when almost immediately they were watching a young Jay quietly perched in an old Oak tree. It is not very often you get really good views of such a secretive bird but it had chosen a branch where it was not obscured by leaves and we were all able to fully appreciate its wonderful contrasting colours. Yes, a member of the crow family, but pinkish grey-brown in colour with black moustachial stripe, black tail and black and white wings. Also a bright blue panel is a beautiful highlight in the wings.
Then as the Jay hopped to a higher position in the tree an excited call came from a member of the group encouraging us to turn our attention to a Great Spotted Woodpecker that was actively pecking on a horizontal dead branch high up in another Oak tree. The bird, outlined against the sky, was working its way along the branch backwards and then, disturbed by an in-flying Jay, flipped to the underside of the branch and clung on perfectly as they do. A great start to our walk and throughout the morning we heard Great Spotted Woodpeckers calling in various parts of the wood and on several occasions we saw individuals directly overhead in undulating flight.
Woodpigeon, Nuthatch and Wren were calling as we entered the next open area. Here we found Coal Tits calling loudly as they moved through the canopy of some trees. We then watched Chiffchaffs flitting over tall Rosebay Willow-herbs into the tangled branches of a Hawthorn bush. As we listened to the Chiffchaffs’ contact calls we managed to see Goldfinches and Chaffinches in flight and a solitary Swift scything low through the sky.
As we moved out of this area a Southern Hawker Dragonfly put in an appearance despite the overcast weather. It was darting back and forth, twisting and turning, with the blue tip at the end of the abdomen clearly showing. The youngest member of our party looked on in awe as it flashed in front of him several times at chest height.
After watching a Lesser Blacked Back Gull and then a Heron in flight our next stop was the open field before the wood, where we stood and counted a dozen House Martins flying and feeding above the tops of the trees. House Sparrows were calling from within nearby bushes and a small flock of colourful Goldfinches appeared on the tops whilst a single Greenfinch flew in a large circle overhead. And then, a powerful Sparrowhawk with distinctive broad wings was spotted flapping and gliding over the rooftops of Totley before it started to soar up to a greater height and drift out of sight.
As we entered and passed through Gillfield Wood it was noticeable how quiet it was, apart from the tick of Robins and the calls of Great Tits and Blue Tits. The distant call of a Bullfinch was detected but it quickly fell silent as we moved out into the field below Woodthorpe Hall. Edging our way up the hill towards the Hall we were joined by low flying Swallows and then as we looked back not one but three Kestrels appeared above the wood to provide us with excellent views. At least two of these were young birds and, as if on cue, they put on a short display of their newly developed skills on fast pointed wings. A real pleasure to see, but if that was not enough, we also managed to get brief views of a Common Buzzard gliding low over fields at the west end of the wood. Three species of birds of prey in one morning had certainly made it worthwhile turning out on this anticipated wet day. But fortunately it had not rained and guess what, it was getting a bit warmer and brighter.
That could mean, as we turned to head back to the Scout Hut, we may just be lucky enough to see at least one butterfly. After all, this event was advertised as a Bird and Butterfly Walk and we had joked at the outset that a claim could be made under the Trades Description Act if a butterfly did not put in an appearance.
A few minutes later we were roughly five hundred metres from our start point, the weather conditions having slightly improved, when suddenly excitement. A call came out that a butterfly had been seen in flight and had dropped back into the long grass. On close inspection, as it clung with closed wings to a blade of grass, we identified it as a Green-veined White. And then, as if by magic, a small number of butterflies began to appear on the wing around us and soon we had studied at close quarters several more Green-veined Whites, two Ringlets and at least six Gatekeepers.
Some of the relevant features on the underside of the wings of these three species were pointed out to help with identification; the faint dusting on the veins of the Green-veined White; the small circles or eye spots of the Ringlet and the two distinctive white spots on each of the small black “eyes” on the Gatekeeper’s forewings.
Finally, we were treated to two Speckled Wood Butterflies spiralling together in a territorial dance by the footpath, a fitting end to another successful walk. We had no idea then, just how hard it would be raining fifteen minutes later. Back home, in the dry, reflecting on the walk, one could not help but wonder just how those delicate insects, that had delighted us so much at the end of our walk, were now coping as it literally hammered it down with rain outside. I am sure they will delight us again, I know “our” wood and surrounding area certainly will no matter what the weather.
BIRD WALK 15 November 2014
The forecast had been dry for our walk, but what we did not realise was that the visibility would be down to the length of a small field. The early morning fog was not clearing and a quiet grey stillness lay over Gillfield Wood and enveloped the surrounding fields and hedgerows.
At 0900 hours on this Saturday morning, eleven plucky souls met the leader at the metal gate at the bottom of Totley Hall Lane. The usual “morning” and smiles were exchanged amongst the group, but these greetings were accompanied by that slight look of surprise that others had turned out for this event.
This was not a morning for standing around so within minutes we were strolling across the first field with only the ticking call of a Robin breaking the gloom. A Carrion Crow was then heard calling from an adjacent field and another responded but neither came into view. Was this the shape of things to come? The conditions were certainly going to test our skills when it would come down to recognising the various bird calls we were likely to hear, without seeing the bird.
Earlier in the week Starlings, Magpies and four Mistle Thrushes had been together atop an old Ash tree on the edge of this first field before a Sparrowhawk flew over, but today only a solitary Wood Pigeon kept watch from that tree. In the damp atmosphere the bird was not standing upright but was hunched in appearance, appearing to be focused on just getting through the day. It was interesting, as we walked along, that Wood Pigeons continued to appear in singles sitting out the weather in the branches of leafless trees; normally there are small flocks of twenty or more in these fields. Wood Pigeons have really done well nationally in recent years, a once shy bird now confidently visits our gardens, some even to nest.
As we progressed along the footpath to Gillfield Wood, badger diggings along the side of the hedge were pointed out and some of these had been used as a latrine by the mammal. Badgers often mark their territory with their loose dark brown droppings, which are left uncovered in these small excavations. Engrossed looking at badger poo, we nearly missed the arrival overhead of five Greenfinches, now perched at the top of a nearby Silver Birch. This corner spot, where four fields meet and there is plenty of cover in the form of hedges, ditches, shrubs and trees, is where a male Greenfinch regularly can be found singing in the breeding season. Today however, these birds, with no sunlight to accentuate their colours, do not make a sound and do not even call as they leave their temporary resting place to continue their flight through the area.
Edging nearer to the wood a Magpie is heard rattling away and then a Nuthatch calls briefly from behind us. It must have been quietly working one of the old Oak trees near to the stile we had just climbed over. Entering the wood and walking the main path we immediately heard small birds calling and with eyes scanning the tops of the larches we managed to see a small flock of Coal Tits seeping and feeding as they flitted from one tree to another. Certainly not easy to see when they are so high up but you could occasionally see the flash of white on the back of their heads if you were lucky. The accompanying Long Tailed Tits were a little easier to identify with their characteristic shape and long tails as they hung upside down at the end of some of the branches. It was also here that we managed to find a male Great Spotted Woodpecker edging its way up the side of a tree; not only high up but amongst the tangled branches made it difficult to see, especially as it moved around the blind side of the trunk as they do all too often when you are trying to get good views. And then just as you “get on to the bird” it takes to flight, undulating its way to another part of the wood. At least most of us saw it even if it was only a glimpse.
A little further along a Jay was heard to call and was then seen to fly along the edge and outside of the wood. Despite a quick search we could not locate this particular bird again. It is however noticeable how many more Jays are about this autumn; even if you don’t see them, you certainly can hear their raucous call in various parts of the wood and around our village. More birds were then heard calling, this time Chaffinches, Blackbird and at least one Nuthatch. It was noisy, a concentration of calls. Sometimes this can indicate the birds being alarmed that a Tawny Owl or Fox is present, so we edged forward carefully and quietly. Even a Buzzard can be seen these days perched quietly in the lower branches of a tree in our wood but unfortunately despite carefully scanning the area, we did not find anything to cause great excitement. Nevertheless we did have a male Blackbird fly out of the area, a number of Chaffinches were also seen and pleasingly two Nuthatches put in an appearance, one even obliged by coming down the bark of a larch next to us so we had much better views and were not straining our necks quite as much as before.
Our walk then took us out into the fields on the south side of the wood and here we found a number of different fungi including Waxcaps such as Meadow, the green stemmed Parrot and the red with yellow edges of Honey. Indicators of an old pasture. It was a special treat to see the different species, some in small clusters, brightening up with their lovely colours this fog hugging autumn morning. As it started to drizzle some of the party started to depart but a few brave souls remained for the final leg of the walk and they were rewarded with views of two male Bullfinches with a female, all feeding in a Hawthorn bush near Woodthorpe Hall. Always a good area to see these birds but the views today were somewhat restricted as the drizzle started to fall more heavily onto the lenses of our binoculars. At least we added Mistle Thrush to our short list for the morning when two of these birds flew across our path emitting their rattling call.
Despite the weather and despite only a few birds putting in an appearance, everyone enjoyed the walk and the companionship. There was plenty of good discussions and general chatter and we now look forward to our next Bird Walk in February which is scheduled for Saturday the 7th and there is another Bird and Butterfly Walk in May. Do come along if you can make it, no experience necessary and if you do not possess binoculars it does not matter, just bring your eyes. Look out for the group’s adverts and posters and check out its website www.friendsofgillfieldwood.com/