Girton Birdwatch - May 2006
It's all happening at this time of the year: lots of comings and goings. At the end of March there were still large flocks of Fieldfare and Redwing on the Rec and 10 acre field but a walk on 1st April could produce only a solitary Redwing, the last of the visiting thrushes I was to see. (Although John McGibbon had one in his garden on the 13th April). Their absence, however, made the bustling Mistle Thrushes that much more noticeable. The Blackcaps have been here all winter and have been regular visitors to Woodlands Park, as has a Goldcrest. A male Reed Bunting - a bird I commented on in March - has also taken to visiting Bob Benton's garden down that way. Bob also thinks he caught a glimpse of a Nuthatch down the High Street in March, so if anyone else thinks they saw one we'd both be pleased to know. My family and I went all the way to Sandy the other week to see this bird! And it's well worth seeing as it's a handsome little thing. It's about five and a half inches long with slate grey upper parts, buff under parts, a white throat and a black eye-stripe. It gets its name from its habit of lodging nuts in the crevices in trees and splitting them open with vigorous blows from its 'hatchet' bill. Very often it will attack the nut from above and is, in fact, the only British bird that regularly climbs down trees head first. Over 20 years ago, when camping in the Dordogne, a family of these birds used to visit our tent, coming inside and picking up crumbs and small insects. I've never experienced such tame behaviour before or since; does this mean they don't taste very nice?! ( Whilst on the March issue, Chris Wilson has gifted me a new pair of reading glasses as the copse in Rockingham forest is, in fact, called Burn Copse).
Another interesting bird that is increasingly likely to be seen around the village is the Siskin. This is a small yellow-green finch, once rather cruelly kept as a cage-bird under the name of 'aberdevine', which has benefited from the spread of conifer plantations. The cock bird is much yellower than any other British finch, except the male Greenfinch, and is the only one, apart from the Greenfinch, to have yellow patches at the base of its tail. It has dark streaks on its back and flanks, and the male has a black bib and crown; the female is more drab, although still an attractive bird. It's present all the year round in Scotland and Ireland, but mainly a winter visitor to this country. It is believed to be breeding regularly in newly afforested areas where it was formerly unknown - and this includes East Anglia. A pair was feeding in a garden in the High Street at the end of March (J.C.) We had a solitary visitor to our garden a few years ago but have not seen them recently. What we have had is a Coal Tit. Our Golden Retriever is moulting at present and his hair has been put out in a ball for nesting material. The Coal Tit, along with other species, thinks it's his/her (the sexes look alike) birthday and can be seen tugging vigorously at the unexpected bounty. The Coal Tit is the smallest of the seven British breeding tits and, because they tend to be more shy than say the Blue and Great Tits, are less frequent visitors to bird tables than their more common and bolder cousins. They also tend to prefer woods, especially those with a fair sprinkling of pines, firs, spruces and other conifers. They are difficult to confuse with the other tits because of the very noticeable white flash on the back of their head and the absence of yellow and light blue plumage. The head itself is a glossy black-blue colour, while its back is a drab olive-buff. It has pale underparts except for a little black bib. They disappeared after the 1987 storm but, thankfully, are now back.
On Easter Saturday a solitary Swallow passed over Cambridge Rugby Club where Cambridge were in the process of beating North Walsham to take the Eastern Counties Cup. Another skirted the Girton Riding Stables on Sunday, while three sped over the same area on the Monday. Summer definitely on the way? The Swifts don't usually arrive until May, so keep your eyes open for those. The big excitement 'locally', however, took place at Fowlmere where birders from all over the country were attracted to view the Hoopoe which dropped in for a few days. The Hoopoe, with its pink-brown plumage, crest like a native American's head-dress, long sabre-like bill and boldly barred black and white wings, is one of the most exotic birds to be seen in Britain. To many it resembles a large black and white moth. It gets its name from its call note, a rapid, far-carrying 'hoo-hoo-hoo', of the same pitch as the cuckoo's. It is a rare visitor to Britain with only small numbers arriving (about 100 a year), usually in April or May, as vagrants from the Continent. There have been only about 40 British nesting attempts.
Pete Gibbs has just reported hearing a cuckoo calling near St John's Spinney (17th April, 4.30pm).
Ken Sheard, Ken.sheard2 at ntlworld.com