Given that yesterday my usual patch visit day was horribly wet it was lucky that today on my day off that the sun was shining and I was able to get out and down to the Mill. Whilst the sun was out there was still a brisk cold wind blowing.
Wind in my experience is a major issue for bird watching. When it is windy there is a definite reduction in the number of birds sighted. This I think is due to the fact that flying in wind is hard work and birds dislike hard work that expends energy unnecessarily. Instead of flitting about the meadow or along the riverbank they choose to head to the heart of the woods where there is greater shelter, sadly this area is inaccessible to me. Additionally the sound of the wind causes problems in terms of finding the wildlife. It may sound odd but probably 50% of my wildlife watching is based on hearing with the other 50% being seeing.
Obviously bird calls and songs alert people to their presence but there are more subtle sounds that alert me to their presence. Often I can identify the presence of blackbirds by the sound of turning leaves, the clap of a woodpigeon wing beak or the presence of voles by the rustle in the undergrowth. If you listen carefully you can even pick up the high pitch squeaks of shrews. Light wind is okay and once you know what you’re listening for you can quickly distinguish between the random noise of windblown vegetation and the rhythmic motion of something moving, strong winds on the other hand destroy this affect and the subtle movements are lost in the swirling of leaves and nodding of boughs.
As it turns out despite the wind the visit was very productive. In the space of the hour I was walking I identified 25 species by sight and song. Below is a picture of my field notebook as I thought I would explain my routine.
I follow the same route every week and on average it takes me about an hour although in the summer when there are butterflies and dragonflies to count it often takes longer. I make notes on numbers observed taking care not to double count where possible. I use my own hybrid recording code some of which will be obvious to you. This sometimes causes problems in my role a British Trust for Ornithology surveyor. The BTO have a coding system but my own system was developed as a teenager before I had even heard of the BTO and its proving hard to change to the accepted system.
Highlights this week include the sighting yet again of the snipe. I always flush this bird before seeing it and doubt I will ever do anything different. They are so small and cryptic and the vegetation so dense that it will take a miracle for me to spot it before it spots me. This is a shame as I would love a photo of this timid, dainty bird a species which in Warwickshire no longer breeds.
The Chiffchaffs are well and truly back. I have observed individuals over the past few weeks but today there were at least three singing their characteristic name sake calls, elsewhere love is starting to blossom.
The absence of female Mallards on the river indicates to me that they are probably secreted away in the undergrowth on nests. A pair of Kestrels was seen hunting over the site and the eerie warbling ululating sound they sometimes make indicated some form of interaction between them. Higher up in the skies the resident pair of Buzzards were making use of some thermals to soar above the fields fast disappearing from view. Skylarks could be heard calling from the field and I saw the first Kingfisher in weeks. It was incredibly fast and seemed to be carrying a fish as it flashed past. This is excellent news. Kingfishers can be early nesters but I suspect the fish being carried was a present to woo a female.
Across the meadow the green vegetation is starting to emerge from the brown dead stalks of the willowherb and nettles and I hope that this year will be a bumper year for the grass loving species of butterfly such as the Skippers and Ringlets as the winter cut has substantially reduced the nettle cover, conversely of course this will probably result in a fall in Tortoiseshell numbers.