Thursday, 1 August 2013

It Ain't Half Quiet

Time drifts on and we approach another transitional point in the bird year. The sounds of silence, or at least quietness, are upon us. There are still cheeps and chirps and calls to be heard out there, but song is on the way out. The 'dawn chorus' this morning consisted of a single Wren and some Herring Gulls mewing in the distance. The Blackbird which has been heard from 3.45 am during June and early July is resting its vocal cord and will not be singing again until next year. Likewise, Thrushes and Dunnocks. The Robin is also silent while it undergoes its moulting period, but it will sing again during the autumn. The breeding season is almost over.

Wren in my garden 
It wasn't quite so quiet when Sue, Terry and I did our monthly survey of Hilly Fields on a hot and windless 22nd July, but it was getting there. We heard a Blackcap sing for a short spell in the wood by Eastern Rd and a Chaffinch holding forth again from a tree near the school (see last month's post). But the only bird really belting it out was the Wren - several of them, in fact, repeatedly. Could this have been an avian lonely hearts club band? At a mere 10 cm in length (max), the Wren is almost Britain's smallest bird (beaten to that title by the Goldcrest and Firecrest) and is certainly our most common bird (click for link) with an estimated population of over 17 million. For such a small bird (weighing as little as a £1 coin), the Wren with its famous cocked tail is quite stocky and emits a loud and powerful five second song. Here's a You Tube clip...

The other striking feature of Hilly Fields bird life at the moment is the number of juvenile birds which is of course to be expected. The most significant was a young Chiffchaff which Terry spotted in the Eastern Rd hawthorns. We also saw one of the adults. This is good news for it means that the birds have bred in the park which is a "first" as far as we are aware in the six year duration of the bird champion scheme. In the past, Chiffchaffs have been heard only at the beginning or end of their migratory period. This year, two of them stayed around to mate and raise at least one little one. There were plenty of juvenile Tits as well, their colouring not yet as rich as their parents, and I spent some time tracking a young Robin which had not yet acquired its red breast, but it was hard to get decent photos of any of these small birds through all the foliage. The best image I could manage is the juvenile Wood Pigeon below which hasn't yet gained the white collar or the plumpness of its elders. It reminds me of that old chestnut of a question: why do you never see baby pigeons? The answer is because you don't look in their nests! Baby pigeons are fed such a rich diet by their parents and grow so fast as nestlings that by the time they fledge, they're as big as their mum and dad, or almost.

Juvenile 'Woodie'
We saw 17 species in total during our two hour walkabout. We also saw butterflies galore - in fact, thanks to the prolonged sunshine, urban green spaces are alive with them at present which makes it a great time to do the Big Butterfly Count (click for link). On Hilly Fields, the wildflower meadow is full of Meadow Browns while you might also see the Burnet 6 Spot, an attractive day flying moth, and you will certainly see a lot of very busy bees. In the wood and Eastern Rd area, the lovely Speckled Wood butterfly can be found.

Meadow Brown on Tansy in the wildflower meadow

Speckled Wood in the wood

STOP PRESS - Sue did another Hilly Fields walkabout on 30 July - 17 species seen including four Mistle Thrushes. Normally, we see two so it's safe to assume that they have successfully bred. She also heard a Nuthatch - an occasional visitor - and saw House Martins flying overhead with Swifts. A good result.