Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Dawn and Daylight Music

It was cloudy and a little chilly on 29 March when Judith and I carried out the monthly bird survey. Our avian chums were not showing themselves much at first, but were literally singing their hearts out as we're now well into the mating season. Blackbirds, Robins and Wrens led the chorus, while Great Tits and Blue Tits called repeatedly in the background and a trio of Greenfinches sneered at us. We saw evidence of House Sparrows and Magpies nest building, but the Gulls who've spent the winter here have gone away now to make babies elsewhere. A Mistle Thrush sang over by Montague Avenue, while another one gobbled berries in the north field Whitebeam tree. And a brave Pied Wagtail hopped about on the bowling green lawn despite the presence of a Glendale operative mowing the grass.


Lots going on, but the best was yet to come. Somewhere around the little wood or the trees at the top of Eastern Road, a Green Woodpecker called several times. The call is like a shrill repeated laugh and is known to birders as the 'yaffle' (hence Professor Yaffle in Bagpuss). There is a perfect rendition of it about 28 seconds into the video clip below. On this occasion, we couldn't see the bird, but Green Woodpeckers have a striking combination of green plumage (over pale breast), red cap and black 'mask' like a harlequin. They don't drum like the Great Spotted Woodpecker, but have long pointed bills for digging ants out of ant hills and can often be seen on grassland feeding on invertebrates in the soil. They breed in the Brockley and Ladywell cemeteries and are known to be occasional visitors to Hilly Fields.


And just as we were about to pack up, we heard and then saw a Song Thrush, perched in a tree on the Veda Road border, singing each phrase several times. It is said to have over a hundred different phrases in its repertoire. The final tally was 19 species: 8 Blackbirds, Great Tits, Woodpigeons and Wrens, 7 Blue Tits, Robins and Starlings, 4 House Sparrows, 3 Crows, Goldfinches, Greenfinches and Ring-necked Parakeets, 2 Dunnocks, Magpies and Mistle Thrushes and 1 Chaffinch, Green Woodpecker, Pied Wagtail and Song Thrush.


As if that wasn't enough, I was back on Hilly Fields the next morning at 6am for the Friends of Hilly Fields annual Dawn Chorus walk along with a dozen other light sleepers. The weather was fine, there were clear views of lovely Lewisham and a brightening sky behind Shooters Hill where the sun started to rise about twenty minutes later. We walked around the park hearing many of the same birds from the day before - Blackbirds, Robins, Wrens and Great Tits in particular. On the lane above Eastern Road, we heard from the Three Finches: a brief burst of Goldfinch song, the descending trill of a Chaffinch and the sneer of a Greenfinch. And by the playground we were treated to the sight and sound of a Mistle Thrush singing from the top of a tree as they often do.


After that we crossed Adelaide Avenue and cut through St Cyprian's Path to the Brockley and Ladywell cemeteries where Mike Guilfoyle of the Friends was waiting to admit us. It was broad daylight by now and a fine sunny morning. The cemeteries were a little quieter than expected and Phil, who does monthly bird surveys of the site, suspected that a Sparrowhawk was around causing the birds to keep schtum. Nevertheless, we heard the laughing call of a Green Woodpecker freequently along the route and towards the end some of us heard a brief burst of melody from a Song Thrush and the staccato song of a Chiffchaff - a migrant warbler which arrives every spring from the Med and North Africa. And then we were back at the cemetery gates again and it was time to disperse. But the music goes on every day.