Scadbury Park Bird Walks 2015

Bill Whittaker, with Keith recording
Looking across the paddock

Bird Walk Report, 23rd May

The route for this walk covered very similar ground to that which we followed on our first walk in March, covering both the woodland broad rides and then the open meadows.

Identifying birds “in the field” is usually more difficult than watching them in one’s own garden particularly if you are feeding them, as many of us do.  And with all the trees in full leaf we hardly had a clear sighting of any of the woodland species in that part of the walk. And out in the open, they were mainly flying around pretty fast. Nevertheless several species were singing strongly in the woods though tit species were in the main very quiet, no doubt either incubating their eggs or just busy foraging for food. So again we focussed heavily on bird song and in flight silhouette etc. 

Starting from the Car Park both chiff chaff and blackcap warblers were singing strongly, and robins too giving us a good opportunity to store the main characteristics of each in our memories; robins and blackcaps in some respects are not that dissimilar differing mainly in phraseology and tonal quality.

As always the parakeets continual raucous and loud calls dominated the whole scenario, and so it was difficult to hear several other species which were calling and singing well enough but mainly too far away to learn a lot about them on this occasion.  Wood pigeon and stock doves, magpies and crows etc, song thrush and blackbird included amongst them. Most noticeably scarce on this day were the various tit species. Only a month ago both great and blue tit species were seen or heard seemingly all the time one was walking along the same paths. Just before we emerged from the woodland we did hear a song thrush singing its characteristic repeated phrase quite well, which was very nice.

Crossing the Tree Centre approach road from Perry St. and out in the open, we had much better visibility and could see two male blackbirds each high up on their own territorial song posts about 60 yards apart and hear them singing against each other, just as the books says they do.  As we walked through the meadows bordered by hedges we started to hear snatches of song of another summer migrant warbler species, the common whitethroat. This species about the same size as a dunnock is known as a scrubland species living in hedges and isolated scrubby bramble patches, but not seemingly in the larger dense stands of bramble. It is aptly named but one needs to see it perched at the top of a bush singing before one can readily appreciate it.  The song is not actually very attractive and is usually described as “scratchy”, without any of the clear fluty tonal quality of e.g. blackcaps. One of the male birds behavioural helpful features is that it often does a song flight dance, just flying up out of a patch of scrub and then back again while delivering its song in flight.  This area of the Park is ideal for them and several pairs have established breeding territories, so I recommend you to visit this end of the Park over the coming weeks to get more familiar with this species. Though it is one of those on our Priority Action list it seems to find here exactly the conditions it requires.

Two buzzards then appeared, some distance away and caused me some embarrassment, as from my angle the silhouette and flight pattern of the first seemed to me to be more typical of a red kite. The second bird seen was soaring and circling higher up in the sky and displaying the perfect ID guide silhouette.  A real surprise next, as we walked down the meadow, we heard the unmistakeable “churring“ of starling family contact calls and on looking about us we saw quite a bit of activity in the woods and over the meadows where they were foraging for food. I use the word surprise because I had no real evidence thus far this year that starlings were even present trying to breed in the Park and here they were out of their nests, fledged!  Starlings do not sing territorially in such an obvious way, as do most of the songbirds that we have been studying.

Further down the hill we saw a fledged family of long tailed tits; we heard them first as one usually does, foraging as a family group for food and maintaining contact by quiet thin “tseeping” noises which do not carry very far, and then on cue when the parents decide to fly on to another patch of scrub, they move on in procession enabling one to count them one by one as they sees break cover before vanishing into the thick dense cover; it is not uncommon to count as many as 12 juvenile birds in such a party.  Further on in the valley we encountered a second long tail family party. It was nice too to see both swifts and swallows over the meadows, just a few individuals, presumably foraging for food.  Both are on our Priority Action List. The only place a swallow might nest would be in the farm buildings near the Moat, and to date there is no evidence of this so the swallows we see could be non-breeding birds, and just foragers.

We finished our walk following the central cross path and were lucky enough to see a green woodpecker in characteristic looping flight low down over the valley field.  Compared with our previous walks the total number of species recorded was down but that does not mean that the birds are not there, simply that they are busy doing other things which do not include advertising their presence.  One always learns something useful!

Second Walk - Saturday 9 April 2015.

I chose a different Part of the Acorn Trail for this second “birding walk”. Not unexpectedly, for this and one or two other reasons, our “encountered” bird species list was, refreshingly, different in several respects, though 20 of the 24 species found on our first walk were “the same”. However, this time another 8 different species were recorded making a total of 28 species on this foray.
We had good weather for our walk and there was much to see and enjoy. The summer inward migration is now well under way, and two more warbler species were encountered to add to the solitary chiff chaff seen and heard last time. These chaff chaffs are found all over the park. We even heard one as we parked our cars. Additionally black caps have arrived and though as we started our walk the first encountered, was not  “in full song”, but later others were heard “properly”, a proper cheerful tuneful warble, much nicer than the simple “chiffing” of the chiffchaff
Near the Yew tree walk, I also heard several times the plaintive characteristic descending cadence of the willow warbler song, but I think I was the only “witness”, and because other birds were occupying our attention at the time and it did not sing for long, I could not point it out for everyone to hear (and try to remember!).

We had already seen and/or heard several other of our more commonly encountered species to good advantage, a male chaffinch and the ubiquitous great tits and chiff chaffs, but others namely dunnock, blue tit and song thrush were hardly noticeable on this outing. But early on we had also, nice if brief views of cole tits and a treecreeper in the upper branches of some youngish silver birches. This latter species though not on any “cause for concern “ list is not often seen and is easily overlooked. It does not sing or call much and spends most of its time crawling (mouse like) up a tree trunk and foraging for food; and then it flies straight down straight down to the bottom of the next tree, which is how one usually “cottons on” to what it is. Seeing this species always gives me special pleasure, and we were very lucky on this occasion.
We were also able to learn more about how to identify stock doves and wood pigeons. The latter is common, but the former less so, and on our Priority list, but on the evidence of our first two walks well established in this Park.
Mike Tyler’s sharp eyes alerted us to what I classify our “champagne moment”. He saw a male bullfinch some distance away perched at the top of a tall oak tree. With our field glasses we could see this spectacularly coloured bird very well, a sight to remember. This species is of particular concern to us conservationists, and one of the species that I wish to get up to date information about its breeding status in woodland areas such as this. But with regard to this bird’s behaviour, in most bird books, they refer to it as a “shy and retiring species” rarely seen. I have never seen a bullfinch, like this, perched for so long in such an exposed position in my whole life. I assume it was singing, which is how male birds proclaim “territory ownership”, but I have never heard a bullfinch singing either and it was too far away to hear anything so we do not know if this was so. Even books and field guides contain little or no information on what a bullfinch song sounds like or even if it sings!  A Little later we were fortunate too to have a very good view of a female sparrowhawk traversing overhead in the same area; but on thinking about it, I felt concern that that bullfinch should be very wary about using that song post too often!   A footnote to this event is that, a day or so later when I was revisiting the area, I had another look and saw a nuthatch perched in exactly the same place as had the bullfinch. It must just be a superb song post with fantastic all round visibility.
Another nice sighting was of some tiny long tailed tits foraging in some small trees close to the path, enabling us to see how they move around hanging on underneath the slender branches and stems. We could appreciate particularly exactly why they are so named.
A final treat which most of us enjoyed was the sighting of a buzzard, circling overhead in typical fashion against a clear blue sky. Seeing a buzzard in the outer London Boroughs is now a fairly regular event, and to be welcomed, I think, because it indicates a highly biodiverse ecosystem beneath. I am hoping that it is actually nesting in the Park.

Bill Whittaker.

First Walk, Saturday 21st March 2015. A group of 15 of us gathered in the Perry Street car park where we were met by Bill Whittaker, an enthusiastic and passionate conservationist who had us enthralled with his knowledge of birds and their sounds. It's amazing if you focus on your surroundings exactly what birds you have around you… most of the time we are too busy to stop and listen.

Walking along the footpath Bill would suddenly stop and tell us the name of the bird that was singing, and more often than not a story related to it.  We heard and saw a chiff chaff during the walk which excited Bill no end. This bird is the first migrant bird and heralds the start of spring, which means there won’t be long before there will be other birds migrating back to the woods.

We heard and saw numerous other birds which included Mistle Thrush, Stock Dove, Long Tailed Tit, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Nuthatch, Green Woodpecker, Wren, Robin, chaffinch and a blackbird sending out an Alarm call.

We also heard a Dunnock, which is bird included in the National Biodiversity Action Plan for species needing protection. We saw Jackdaws feeding on the ground in one of the Fields together with magpies and moorhens in another.

Sadly the weather deteriorated and the birds decided they had enough and stayed within their confines, not the best of days for seeing all the birds but it was certainly an extremely informative and enlightening 2 hour walk.

I will definitely be going on the next one!

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