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.
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 www.friendsofgillfieldwood.com. 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.