Friday, 29 May 2015

Birds of the Woodside Link

Here is the list of birds considered to breed in the area of arable land and hedges between Sundon Road and Parkside Drive, and from Parkside Drive to Poynters Road/Park Road North in April-July 2010.  It is taken from the Ecological Phase 2 Survey Report by CBC.

I have added at the bottom a few more that I have seen but which are not recorded as breeding here.

Collared Dove
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Meadow Pipit
Pied Wagtail
Song Thrush
Lesser Whitethroat
Common Whitethroat
Common Whitethroat

Willow Warbler
Long-tailed Tit
Blue Tit
Great Tit
Carrion Crow
House Sparrow
Reed Bunting

Additional species recorded in or over the area during the 2010 breeding bird survey:

A pair of Mallards, I'm watching out for ducklings!

Grey Heron
Black-headed Gull
Herring Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
House Martin
Yellow Wagtail
Ring Ousel

In addition I have seen: barn owl, two egrets, grey wagtails, corn buntings, wheatear and a large flock of golden plovers passing through.

In my garden, I have also seen a redpoll one hard winter.

So there is plenty to spot and enjoy in the different seasons.

Two Little Egrets

The unmistakable silhouette of a Little Egret

I make no apology for the fact that my pictures are quite distant, because to learn to spot them, first you have to see them with the naked eye, not a telephoto lens! 
In September 2011 for days I visited the Golden Plovers hunkered down in the field on their migratory route south, possibly following the M1 as a guide!  Look closely in the foreground, they are well camouflaged.

Seemingly unconcerned by the traffic roaring past so close, these birds were feeding contentedly until I spooked them, then they took flight and gave me a dazzling air show like a string of beads just burst, their white underwings flashing in the bright sunshine as they tumbled down the sky.  A truly magical sight.

Whitethroats are my favourites in spring-time as they can easily be seen taking short flights from one spot to another in repetitive fashion.  This makes it easy to photograph them too as you can focus on the spot they have just left ready for when they come back!

I feel so privileged to see these summer visitors year on year so close to the buslink just a stone's throw from home.  This one is perched on a pile of dead twigs left by the clearance for the road works.  Their favourite nesting area was the hawthorn scrub on the Shanley Land which has largely been removed.  Now the copse has almost disappeared as well, I wonder where they will find a safe place to nest this year?  And will they come back next year? 
So far this year I have regularly heard Garden Warblers, Black Caps and Chiff-Chaffs, but no Willow Warblers.  Perhaps the north winds have delayed them, or has the clearing of the willow trees along the stream deterred them?  I do miss their sad descending warble.
There are plenty of starlings feeding in the garden but now that the woods backing onto Wheatfield Road have been largely cleared, their roost has shrunk considerably.  In winter several small flocks gave a delightful murmuration display before settling down for the night.  Will they still roost there next winter?
Of the field birds we will lose many species when the houses are built.  The biggest loss will be the skylarks.  For me there's nothing better than the song of the lark to lift the spirits.  Meadow pipits abound on the Shanley Land, and the call of the partridges in the long grass is frequently heard in the background.  Linnets sit on the power lines, dropping down to the ground to feed.  Yellowhammers can be seen all year round, and recently a couple of corn buntings accompanied me on my walks along the stream. 

Yellowhammer surveying the scene

In winter fieldfares and redwings eat the fruit remaining on the bushes.  Wrens, robin and blackbirds love to feed along the stream and a grey wagtail is often seen feeding in the stream.  By the bridge, I was always greeted by a robin in a tree now cut down which was his territorial marker.
I have only ever seen a great spotted woodpecker and bullfinch on my garden feeders, never beyond the garden fence.  The woodpecker's habitat is already decimated and I haven't heard him drumming for several years.
One mystery I would like to clear up is where do the swifts nest that visit every year?  If they nest in Chalton Farm then that's bad news for them and us as it's in the middle of the road site.  I love to hear them screaming and watch them chasing across the sky from my window while at work - a great distraction!  I wonder if we should make sure they stay by putting up swift nesting boxes. 
Of the gulls I think the least said the better, as their raucous sound tends to drown the gentler songs of smaller birds.  Gulls are attracted inland by the abundant fast food left by humans on pavements.  However, they did once give a spectacular flying display around the black poplar, apparently catching moths as they took flight from the top of the tree.  A never-to-be forgotten experience!
Living close to a semi-wilderness also means having predators around, like sparrowhawks, kestrels and buzzards.  I opened my curtains one morning to find myself staring straight into the face of a sparrowhawk barely 12feet away!  That moment I was glad I wasn't a sparrow!  Sparrows nest in the eaves and no doubt its attention was slightly above my head.  We locked gaze for what seemed like minutes.
When I hear a bird call, I can't help picking up my binoculars whatever I'm doing, and going to look for it. I am not a birdwatcher who counts sightings, or one who has to see a certain number of species each year, although that is important in order to find out what is happening to our British Birds.  My interest is more in going out to see what I can hear in 'My Patch', whether common or rare, and observing its beauty and learning about its behaviour and habitat.
We've already lost tawny owls and cuckoos, more often heard than seen, and now more species will be lost to this area.  When the fields have gone under houses, wheatear and golden plover will not be able to stop there to refuel on their long flight south.  When there are cars along the buslink, I wonder if the warblers will continue to delight with their spring songs, or if I will be able to hear them above the noise of traffic?
Above all, what I love about watching wild creatures is when they know I'm watching them and watch me back without flinching and I daren't breathe lest I break the spell.  That eye-to-eye contact is a magical moment that is worth getting up early in the morning and waiting for.  I always go out with an open mind and come back refreshed and thankful for all I have seen, even if I saw the same species the day before.  I just want to know they are still there and will still be there tomorrow and the next day and the next year....
Long-tailed tit

Nest in the saved hedge


Thursday, 7 May 2015

The Old Buslink, Copse and Hedgerow

Welcome to the Old Buslink at the bottom of Parkside Drive, which runs between the gardens of houses on Fenwick Road and Conway Close.  This narrow lane, gateway to the open space beyond, is currently a foot and cyclepath, the haunt of cats, foxes and hedgehogs, playground for squirrels,  and popular food stop for birds. 
There are fruit trees here, apple, blackberry and golden plum as well as a most beautiful sumac which glows with colour in autumn.

But everything is about to change.  This lane will become a road for through traffic to the Woodside Link.  The foot/cycle path will be on the opposite side from where it is at present, which means that this sumac and the fruit trees will be removed.  The plans show that two trees on this side and all the trees on the other side are marked as being 'retained'. 
The copse adjacent to Fenwick Road was an impenetrable thicket surrounding the pylons, and giving shelter to many creatures including hedgehogs, foxes, deer, birds and, according to the official survey, slow worms.  When it was scheduled to be cleared in February 2015 I objected as hedgehogs would still be hibernating.  E-mails went back and forth and I thought there was agreement that it could be left until later in the season when hibernation and the bird nesting season was over when it is illegal to clear vegetation.  But it was cleared nonetheless, and as yet we don't know by whom...


The survey classed this area as 'hawthorn scrub' and I was informed by the Ecologist that "...most of the existing vegetation will be retained."  In fact, most of the existing vegetation has been cleared, leaving only a fringe around the edge and a few metres in the middle to hide the electricity box.  There were many fine trees here supporting lots of birdlife as evidenced by the intensity of the dawn chorus.  It was a good deal more than 'scrub'.

My enquiries elicited the explanation that the clearance is " enable a temporary site compound to be built. The site compound may be temporary but the damage to the copse is permanent.  It will take decades for the trees and bushes to regrow.  Again I was told: "The landscaping details state that existing hawthorn and other vegetation is to be maintained with mown grass paths."  There's nothing left to maintain. 
The landscape plans, which were available to view at the Town Council in January, show this area as mostly "...wildflower grass areas or scrub, and open grassland," with a few thinly scattered individual treesThe response to my enquiry was:

"The plans do not just show grassland but include areas of species rich wildflower grassland and scrub with amenity grass running through as paths and glades."  You cannot have glades without trees!    
The total clearance has meant the dawn chorus is much less intense.  Summer visitors have arrived, white throat, black cap, chiffchaff, but not the willow warbler.  This area will no longer be a rich wildlife habitat as it was before.  A great loss.  Was it really necessary to destroy so much...?
On a brighter note, the trees on the west side of the Parkside Link will be retained and "...As much existing hedge as possible will be retained, and a lost section to the south-east will be replanted until it merges with the planting on the embankment.  Temporary fencing will be installed until this hedge is established. An amenity grass area will be created alongside existing vegetation."
This mature hedge, over 12ft high, contains hawthorn, blackthorn, wayfaring tree and field maple, and these species will be replicated in the continuation of the hedge up to the embankment. 
Wayfaring Tree
The original plans had put a knee-high rail as the only barrier between the grassed play area and the road, which I felt was inadequate both as protection for cars from balls and dogs on the road, and for people and dogs in case of cars encroaching on the green space in the event of an accident.  Also, a knee-rail would allow anyone tall enough to step over and cross the road at any point along it to get to the foot path on the other side, hindering traffic flow and increasing risk of accidents.  Now pedestrians and cyclists will be able to cross only at the crossing - safer for everyone. 
Looking south down Parkside Drive from the 'gateway', this hedge actually blocks the view ahead to the Woodside Link.  I hope this will encourage drivers to keep to the 20mph speed limit through the houses.  The line of the road was to have gone right through this hedge, but now it will follow the curve to the left and at the bottom, where a short section will be lost, a new hedge will be planted up to the embankment for the bridge over the stream.
Saved for birds, for people, for dogs!

Friday, 1 May 2015

Vole and Poplar Latest news

One of the indicative signs of the presence of Water Voles is their latrines, and this is one in Houghton Brook, showing four small very green roly-poly droppings.  I never thought I'd be following in Chris Packham's eminent footsteps, but I actually picked these up to get properly identified!  This at least is proof that the voles are still there, though perhaps in lower numbers than last year.  Rats, however, are competing with them for resources and as the voles have nowhere else to go, their future is uncertain.  Above all, the banks where they have their burrows must be defended from heavy boots jumping across the stream and heavy vehicles driving too close and causing erosion. 

The scene at the bottom of Conway Close is barely recognisable now.  Since February, most of the tall trees behind the black poplar have been felled along with all the scrub and bushes in the path of the Woodside Link.  Although the poplar looks bare now, life is showing in the twigs and it will grow another crown as beautiful as the last.  The fencing is intended to protect it from accidental damage by works vehicles and lorries passing close beneath it and shaking the very ground it stands on.  The next thing to happen should be the digging of the new stream bed to divert the brook away from the road.  Close to the foot of the black poplar is a spring, and as it likes to be close to water, this spring will hopefully supply its needs in all seasons.  The poplar's recovery is something to look forward to next spring.  And in the meantime, there is a group of younger black poplars further downstream to enjoy.  I particularly love the sound the leaves make in the wind, like the sound of soft clapping.