Sunday, May 11, 2014

Dawn Chorus - Guided Bird Walk

It's that time of the year again and 13 mad individuals dragged themselves out of bed for a 4am start for the Dawn Chorus walk this morning. Unfortunately this year it has coincided with extremely blustery conditions which is never great for birding and so it proved with a bit of a damp squib of a dawn chorus this morning. There was plenty of singing but it never really reached the heights of previous years and I was always able to pick out individual songs from the crowd although it was very difficult to isolate them for the rest of the group until things calmed down a bit.

A bit of a surprise to me was the number of Jackdaws and Carrion Crows that are still roosting overnight in the park. Normally considered a winter spectacle, the Corvids leaving the roost this morning was still quite impressive with a few hundred birds getting up together, in a noisy group, before departing for the day time feeding grounds around Bedford.

It was great to see the Little Egrets in the roost again. With the ever lengthening days we are seldom in the park early enough to see them these days but a characteristic white blob was identified along one of the Fingers in west Finger lake. As the light levels increased I managed to locate 8 different birds from our vantage point at the Dead Seat but when they finally all left we counted 13 birds out!

A male Cuckoo put in an early appearance getting up out of the Rough and singing from the Willows by the Dead Seat before heading off around the park.

As usual Blackbirds and Robins were up early and a Garden Warbler also got in and early burst of song before going back to bed for a while! Wrens were the real stars of the early morning session with birds singing on virtually every suitable perch as we walked around the park.

As we moved off around the park Blackcap and Whitethroat were identified in the Rough and a Reed Warbler was singing along the edge of the main lake. We cut down the Spit and were entertained by a particularly showy Wren, its whole body vibrating as it belted out its song. A Treecreeper was heard in the Willows around the Crescent reed bed and Reed Warblers in the reed bed were warming up their voices with a steady rhythmic chuntering.

Plenty more Wrens as we made our way up the east side of Fingers, along the navigation channel. Chaffinch and Blackcap also put in appearances and we flushed a couple of Grey Herons along the Navigation. I made a quick diversion across to the corner of the Flower Meadow by the STW reed bed when I heard a Sedge Warbler singing and we moved up to the STW bridge to see if we could see him. We were able to hear him but couldn't locate him, as I moved off some of the group spotted a Kingfisher on the back channel and as I hurried back I heard it as it flew across to the Navigation and then up the New Cut, piping as it went.

On to 100 Acre where we have had some great waders in this past week so it was with high hopes that I took the group over there today. Display flights from both Sedge Warbler and Whitethroat were great as we made our way along the river side trail. Common Terns were also busy along the river and Lapwings were seeing off Carrion Crows whenever they moved into their airspace, a sure sign that there are chicks in the area (more on that later).

A Cuckoo surprised us again as it flew past along the river and then perched up a little down stream. It was soon off again but straight towards us before settling in the Willow next to us and giving the familiar call. As we strained to see it it flew off again and passed low over us before settling in the top of another nearby Willow. This time it was in full view and I was able to get the scope on it for excellent views for all of the group, a real treat for many who had seldom if ever seen one before.

We turned back along the ditch heading for the prime wader area of the site and I was able to pick out some Ringed Plovers, Dunlin and a Redshank at distance through the scope. A Whitethroat was singing as we made our way over the mound to the earthworks area. I pointed out the Otter tracks to those in the group who weren't on last months guided walk. A dead Mute Swan on the earthworks was identified as Orange 299. No obvious sign of injury but probably a casualty of territorial battles this breeding season.

A Skylark was singing overhead as we checked out the Otter tracks and Yellow Wagtail could be heard in the crop field but were tricky to see. As we started heading back a Reed Bunting showed briefly and more Skylarks were moving and singing around us. Another check over the water edge nearby relocated the group of waders but they remained difficult to see well even with the scope. The Wood Sandpiper which came in during the week and we saw yesterday was absent this morning as was the Wheatear we also saw yesterday. Turning our attention back to the Yellow Wagtails I finally located a spanking male in one of the bare patches in the crop field.

Otter Tracks. (Picture courtesy of Chris Smart)
Next stop was overlooking the area where the Lapwings have been most active defending their airspace from all comers. I located 3 Lapwing chicks on a bare patch of earth by the edge of the lake. An unfortunate Redshank flew in close to the chicks and got a battering from the adult Lapwings for its trouble. Another Redshank was nearby and looked like it may have been sheltering chicks but it was slightly obscured by vegetation to tell for sure. Certainly their behaviour yesterday afternoon when they teamed up with 2 pairs of Lapwings to see off a Crow indicated that they may have chicks in the area.

Around the corner we stopped again, first for lovely views of a couple of Goldfinches perched in the hedge and then I checked out the island where I had seen an Oystercatcher yesterday. Sure enough it was sitting in the same place this morning so I'm fairly sure it is on a nest. This is looking like a bumper year for wader chicks.

It was time to head back now so we trudged back to the park with the wind in our faces. We cut through the Woodland walk for a bit of shelter and then back through the Finger Lakes where a Goldcrest was heard just after we passed the Sedgewick Seat.

Then it was back across the meadow to the visitor centre with a few of the group who were able to stick around for a welcome cup of tea and chat.

Overall a successful walk even if the actual dawn chorus part was less than stellar due to the high wind. The great views of the second Cuckoo were a stand out moment but the overall variety of birds around the 2 adjacent sites was excellent as usual.

Back to normal for the next Guided Bird Walk at the end of the month on Sunday 25th May. Meet outside the visitor centre at 9am.

Last Sunday the volunteers were back in the park putting in more Willow Spiling along the north shore of the main lake by the dipping platform. We also had time to test float the Tern raft which to our relief was successful. Just the gravel to add and a couple of anchors to secure it in place and we can get it out onto the main lake in time for the Terns to check it out and hopefully into use next year if not this.  

Test launch of the tern raft. It floats! Never in doubt ;-) (Picture courtesy of Jane Moore)