Tag Archives: Nuthatch

Life beginning and ending in the wood

It may not match the scale of the ocean of Bluebells in Blean Woods, but our very own Chalet Wood in Wanstead Park – with a little help from our conservation group – puts on a pretty impressive show every year as well. Even now they are past their best, it is still an arresting sight. The peculiar combination of Bluebells with Beech – the ‘Mother of Forests’ is a true source of wonder – the deep blue-purple of Bluebell combined with the fresh life of new green Beech leaves just… works.

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Chalet Wood, Wanstead Park

I have been spending a bit of time recently in a wood at the other end of Wanstead Park: Reservoir Wood (so called because the large man-made lake that used to be located here in the palatial grounds of Wanstead House). And I have witnessed the hope that comes from the beginnings of wild-life. A Nuthatch – a scarcely seen bird on the patch with a bill full of invertebrates; a sure sign that it has bred successfully and that somewhere close by a nest of gaping mouths awaits.

Much later at night in the same wood I heard the squeaks of new life as well. Two young Tawny Owls squeaking constantly and the occasional contact call of the mother. Nothing seen, but recorded here in a video I took.

I also heard the loud squeaks of a very different sort a couple of days before; or more accurately the squawks of death. A female Sparrowhawk startled me with how closely it swooped past me and, before I could even focus, it had a Starling upside down in her talons. The terrible screams continued for a about a minute after the hawk had taken its unfortunate prey off into the seclusion of branch and leaf. The remaining flock of Starlings circled, alarmed and useless but unwilling to leave the scene immediately as if in hope that their comrade would return to them. But, of course, that was never going to happen. The woodland brought life and death, and… maybe life again as it reminded me of when I watched fledging Sparrowhawks in the neighbouring wood back in 2015.

Song of Spring

Lo! where the rosy-bosom’d Hours, 
Fair Venus’ train appear, 
Disclose the long-expecting flowers, 
And wake the purple year! 
The Attic warbler pours her throat, 
Responsive to the cuckoo’s note, 
The untaught harmony of spring: 
While whisp’ring pleasure as they fly, 
Cool zephyrs thro’ the clear blue sky 
Their gather’d fragrance fling.
– Thomas Gray, Ode to Spring

I genuinely enjoy all the seasons, but I won’t be original if I admit that Spring is my favourite. Yesterday, the Patch was screaming with the sights, sounds, and smells of early Spring.

It feels like we must must be close to peak Chiffchaff territory saturation; they are singing everywhere.

Common Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita)

I also caught up up with my first Blackcap on the Patch for the year, finding a singing male just South of Heronry Pond on Wanstead Flats.

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Eurasian Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla)

We are obviously still waiting for most of our Summer migrants to arrive, and all the patch birders have been hoping for an early, interesting, passage migrant. It looks like we will have to wait a little longer. I got my hopes up momentarily when a finch briefly perched in a small tree in the Brooms early on Saturday morning. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a Twite, but a female Linnet – despite my naive hopes based, partly, on the fact that Linnet are rarely seen on the Patch far from around the Jubilee pond.

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Common Linnet (Linaria cannabina)

Spring is showing her wares in other, non-avian, forms too. The yellows have it with the March flowers at the moment on the patch.

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Common Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

The dandelion above may be common in name and status (amongst that huge and complicated plant family) but they are so magnificent when you stop to look at them; like staring into the sun with its layers and flares and knowing that it will also produce a moon of seeds later in the year. But even more impossibly yellow – albeit also very common on the Patch – is the celandine.

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Lesser Celandine (Ficaria verna)

These early pollen providers, seem to be competing only with the nettles and Blackthorn on the Patch at the moment in terms of nectar for our early butterflies.

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Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa)

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Blackthorn flower in detail

Without these early pollen traps there would be no early butterflies. We have now had most of the butterflies we could expect for this time of year, although I am still missing Comma, but yesterday saw Brimstone, Peacock, and Small Tortoiseshell around the Patch.

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Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae)

Like so many species, the common nature of the Small Tortoiseshell can obscure the fact that it should be far more populous and has undergone shocking falls in numbers in the past few decades.The Spring air made me search for evidence of reproduction in every corner of the Patch, whether it was the mating Robins, or the:

Paired up Stock Dove in the Dell:

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Just one of the pair of Dell Stock Dove (Columba oenas)

A circling pair of Sparrowhawk.

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Female Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nissus)

I was also pleased to tick off a calling Nuthatch, finally found – in a very vocal mood – in the Reservoir Wood.

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Eurasian Nuthatch (Sitta europaea)

So, nothing to report that will elicit much of a twitch on the patch, but nonetheless it is just great to be out on a beautiful Spring day.

The smallest kingdom in the world

Some believe that the tiny Island of Tavolara off the coast of Sardinia was the smallest kingdom in the world. They are wrong. The smallest kingdom is on the border of Wales and England.

It lies on a river. The fifth longest river in the UK to be exact. A river which helps form the border between England and Wales. The river Wye:

River Wye

River Wye

A much smaller tributary of the Wye also forms the border between England and Wales and runs through our pocket-sized kingdom: it is called Dulas Brook. As I stood on a bridge this weekend gone, straddling England and Wales with a leg in each and peering through a curtain of vines, I saw a pair of some my favourite British birds, the water-bound Dipper:

White-throated Dipper (Cinclus cinclus)

White-throated Dipper (Cinclus cinclus)

The Kingdom is nestled in a valley overlooked by the northern outpost of the Black Mountains, Hay Bluff – a plateau peak carved out of ancient sandstone by the glaciers from past ice ages:

Hay Bluff in the distance under the sun

Hay Bluff in the distance under the sun

Walking back down to the village kingdom from a morning in the hills, a friend and I stopped by some woods to look for Crossbills. We didn’t see any, but we did get neck ache from watching so many soaring Red Kite and Buzzards. Closer to earth, we also watched a busy Nuthatch, as I reflected on how hard I have tried in vain to see this bird in my local London patch:

Eurasian Nuthatch (Sitta europaea)

Eurasian Nuthatch (Sitta europaea)

Storytime: The Kingdom of Hay
Once upon a time there was a bibliophile, a man who loved books so much, he made them his life. This man lived in a small beautiful village on the border.

The man was saddened by the slow death that befalls many small places as their young inhabitants leave to work and live in bigger cities. It felt as if the life-blood of these small communities was being sucked away.

He wondered how he could save his own village from this ignominious fate. He found the answer in books. Not inside a book, but in books generally.

This man took the strongest men from his village across the Atlantic ocean and started buying up cheap books and carrying as many back to Hay as he could find.

This was the beginning of making Hay one of the most famous destinations for books in the world.

He further secured the village’s place on the map by declaring it an independent kingdom with him as its king.

The King of Hay still runs a bookshop in the village to this day, and the smallest kingdom in the world, though not recognised as a state officially, has secured its place in the world. Long live the King! Ling live Hay-on-Wye!

A Big Birding Year: Part XVI (tree creeping)

Today I returned to see a tree. A Sweet Chestnut that I saw last weekend to be precise… Except, of course, I am not being very precise at all. I did not travel to see a tree; I travelled to see a bird.

But alas, the perch on which the Little Owl is known to sit on a, seemingly, daily basis in the Kensington Gardens was empty. My third owl for the year eludes me still (thinking ahead to my possible fourth, does anyone know anywhere I am likely to get good photos of Barn Owls?). But I comforted myself by finding my second species of owl to photograph again.

The Tawny Owlets in the park are maturing fast and I found one in a tree next to where I saw them last week:

Tawny Owl (Strix aluco)

Tawny Owl (Strix aluco)

It then took off and flew back to the tree where I had seen them last week. There was a cacophony as other birds, including ‘squawkers’, or Ring-necked Parakeets, took flight making alarm/distress calls at the sight of the bird of prey. The juvenile owl was then promptly followed by two siblings that I hadn’t initially spotted before it stared down quizzically at me:

Watching me, watching you! Aha!

Whilst in the park, I also got a picture of an obliging female Blackbird (to be contrasted with the exceptionally shy Blackbirds I shall be seeing shortly in the South of France):

Common Blackbird (Turdus merula)

Common Blackbird (Turdus merula)

I then found a tree alive with a family (or two) of Nuthatches busily scouring the bark for insects:

Eurasian Nuthatch (Sitta europaea)

Eurasian Nuthatch (Sitta europaea)

I then nipped down to the London Wetland Centre (where I negotiated a mortgage over the phone whilst wandering around, and…) where I saw my 87th species of bird for the year: a bird even more suited to scaling up and down tree trunks than the Nuthatch. I seem to have spent the day creeping around trees for views of different birds, so it seemed apt that I would be rewarded with my first photo of a Treecreeper for the year:

Eurasian Treecreper (Certhia familiaris)

Eurasian Treecreper (Certhia familiaris)

A Big British Birding Year: Part II

My journey to photograph as many species of British birds in one year as possible took me to ancient London woodland yesterday.

Queen's Wood

Queen’s Wood in Haringey is small – around 52 acres – but important. It is a recognised wildlife hotspot in the capital and contains rare species of tree (I shall perhaps return in warmer months and write more about these) and insect as well as supporting large numbers of birds.

Queen’s Wood is a fragment from a much larger wood that used to cover much of Northern London and Essex and it may be directly descended from the truly ancient Wildwood that covered most of Britain following the last Ice Age.

It is allowed to grow in a relatively unrestricted manner, although there is some tending using some surprisingly traditional methods to carry the logs:

Horse

But, I went to photograph birds. I was pleased to add four new species to my 2014 list:

Coal Tit (Periparus ater)

Coal Tit (Periparus ater)

Eurasian Nuthatch (Sitta europaea)

Nuthatch (Sitta europaea)

Eurasian Jay (Garrulus glandarius)

Eurasian Jay (Garrulus glandarius)

… and finally, I photographed one of the three species of Woodpecker known to reside in the Wood (the same bird is pictured twice below, amalgamated to show different aspects, as it was always partially obscured – an occupational hazard when photographing birds in woods):

Great-spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major)

Great-spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major)

There were other birds there that are already on my list from last weekend including an exceptionally tame Robin:

Robin (Erithacus rubecula)

Robin (Erithacus rubecula)

… and, lastly, I couldn’t resist this shot of a Grey Squirrel:

Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)

Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)

After two weekends into the year, my total stands at 31.