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. He will also occasionally add notes relating to his own birding and wildlife experiences in our recording area.
Bird and Butterfly Walk 7 July 2018
It is always special to stand in a clearing early in the morning, particularly a warm sunny morning; waiting, watching and eagerly anticipating the next movement, be it bird or butterfly. This was where we found ourselves, in a clearing on this July morning, a group of twelve of us, keen to get the Bird and Butterfly Walk off to a good start.
Different birds were calling; strong and soft calls coming from within the bushes that surround the clearing and from the trees behind. The loud ringing notes and trills from a Wren were accompanied by the short repetitive song of a Dunnock. And then the fluted plaintive call of a Bullfinch was heard and within seconds a beautifully marked male Bullfinch perched above our heads for all the group to see. It was a perfect specimen with bright red underparts, black crown and thick bull-neck. One member of the group could not resist a muffled “Wow!”
Then a member of the group said that she thought she had just seen a Jay in an Oak tree. Although slightly hidden the bird’s head and beak could be seen poking out from behind the leaves in the centre of the tree, its streaked forehead showing above its pinkish grey-brown face and the distinctive black moustache stripe could also be seen. Not all the group were able to find this secretive bird but they were rewarded when another Jay flew low across the clearing, its conspicuous white rump showing perfectly for all to see. Excitement rippled through the group; not a bad start.
Then, while two Starlings were seen to fly over nearby roof-tops a small group of Swifts were spotted hunting insects high in the sky. It is a real pleasure to watch Swifts skimming effortlessly on curved-back wings across cloudless skies; such freedom. In contrast of flight, our attention was then drawn to some butterflies flitting amongst and over the long grass by the side of our footpath. A majority of these butterflies were “Whites”, Green-veined and Small White; almost continuously on the wing. One butterfly did however land in front of us, it was a “Brown”, a Ringlet. It remained still with wings closed for several minutes allowing close inspection. The Ringlet is a gorgeous butterfly with dark smoky-grey wings with conspicuous white edges, and on closed wings the eye spots on the underwings are easy to see and admire. A good story too as this butterfly has extended its range in the UK and we are now seeing it in large numbers around this area and the north.
Continuing our walk alongside Totley Brook, it brought back memories of the Kingfisher that had been seen fishing in the deeper sections of water earlier in the season, but with the prolonged hot weather and lack of rain the brook is now very low although it was still managing to flow freely and it was shimmering beautifully in dappled sunlight. On entering Gillfield Wood we did notice that it was much cooler and quieter; the tranquillity being enhanced by the sun shafting down through the canopy with the ceiling of leaves above us turning that lovely light transparent green colour. Only the gentle cooing of Woodpigeons and the fine contact call of active Blue Tits broke the silence.
Our gentle stroll then took us out of the wood and as we climbed the hill to Woodthorpe Hall a Common Buzzard was seen floating over nearby fields on slightly upturned wings, perhaps hunting for prey or just rising to catch a thermal to take it up even higher. And then a little further on we had Swallows flying low over a newly mowed field whilst a Nuthatch was heard calling from the grounds of the Hall. Here we also managed to get a fleeting view of a Song Thrush as it shot by us and over a high dry-stone wall giving us the opportunity of comparing this rich brown-backed gentle bird with the larger and much paler Mistle Thrush that we had seen in flight earlier. As if on cue the recurring notes of a Song Thrush were heard from a nearby copse. It has certainly been good to hear so many Song Thrushes singing this year from our wooded valley, be it early morning or in the evening.
Then, as we stood there, someone mentioned that they were watching through their binoculars some Red Deer up on the moors. Sure enough, considering the distance, perhaps a mile away, the find proved to be correct. Through the telescope the deer were brought much closer, and despite the heat haze, a little clearer for all to see; they were walking in the bracken on the edge of Totley Moor. A great find to add to the enjoyment of the morning. These walks are great opportunities to meet, chat and enjoy the nature that surrounds us and to ask questions and share wildlife experiences, especially on a lovely day such as this one.
Pressing on we then found ourselves on Fanshawe Gate Lane listening to a bird making a harsh clicking call, much stronger than a Robin’s call. It proved to be a female Blackcap and we were able to watch it feeding in a bush. Occasionally it moved out into the open so all could see its rich red-brown cap above the eyes and its dark grey back. Then a little further along the lane another warbler was heard singing, it was a Chiffchaff. It was not the first Chiffchaff we had heard this morning but certainly it was the loudest. Like the Blackcap, a migrant leaf warbler of the Phylloscopus family; both species undertake long journeys to the UK and Europe to breed. Hopefully they both found the weather here to their liking this summer, but it will not be long before they are heading south again to perhaps spend their winter in Africa; such an incredible achievement for such small birds; just eleven centimetres (approximately) in length.
With Robin and Blackbird being added to our sightings we then encountered a Kestrel, a female hovering over the fields near to Fanshawe Gate Hall. Hopefully it has had a successful season rearing young nearby and was finding enough small mammals to feed the fledglings in such dry conditions. This bird appeared again a little later, circling just above us so that we could see in good light the barring on the underside of the body and in the fanned tail, and the distinctive black band at the end of the tail. One could not help but wish that all birds of prey were that obliging and easy to identify.
As we entered the wood again a Speckled Wood butterfly suddenly appeared and landed in front of us on the leaf of an Alder tree; settling in the sun with wings open as they do. These butterflies can be encountered along woodland rides and in glades but feed on aphid honeydew from the leaves in the woodland canopy. So with Meadow Brown and Large White butterflies putting in an appearance amongst many other butterflies as we walked down through the fields on the south side of the wood it was nice to add another species to our count of butterflies.
Retracing our steps outside the east end of the wood we managed to see a solitary Long-tailed Tit perched in the same bush in which we had seen the Bullfinch two hours earlier. Our attention had been drawn to the bird by its high trilling call, but no sooner the appearance than it flew across the path into deeper cover. Then our second Nuthatch of the morning was heard calling. After a quick search of a tall Willow tree, we were able to see the bird with its long pointed bill, blue-grey back and pale underparts. Normally a very active bird, this one was taking a moment to perch on a long thin branch to preen and call out its presence.
And so we reached the end of our walk. Twenty five species of birds had been seen and heard, and with the great sunny weather continuing throughout the walk it had enabled plenty of butterflies to be found on the wing to add to the interest and enjoyment of the morning. Shame the butterflies will not put in an appearance when the next Bird Walk takes place; well it will be in November! Nevertheless we hope you will join us, you will be made very welcome.
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. The events are advertised on the FoGW website and within the diary in this publication. No experience is necessary to attend; just come along and enjoy.