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Bird Song Walk

This was advertised as ‘a quiet walk to enjoy and identify the songs of common birds and summer migrants’ and to some extent the birds took us at our word! However, we did hear a some star performers without too much background ‘clutter’ from other species, and saw several other interesting things during the mile or two circular walk from Rushy Common to Hardwick.

Fourteen of us met in the Rushy Common car park at 6pm on Sunday 22 May. It was warm and still, and we hoped that the birds would be in better voice than they were when we made a recce on the Friday evening, which was cool, cloudy and breezy,

While we assembled in the car park, a cuckoo was calling from the other side of the road and a Cetti’s warbler from behind – or inside – the hedge by the lake. A rather faded painted lady flew in while we were standing there and two common terns flew overhead.

Cetti’s warbler followed by twittering robin, Rushy Common, 22 May (Sue Morton)

Setting off towards Tar Lakes, we stopped after a few hundred yards to listen to a nearby blackcap; some rather muted blackbirds were singing in the background. In the hope of hearing a whitethroat we then followed the hedge by the first of the Tar Lakes – it’s the right sort of habitat – but with no luck, although plenty more blackcaps were singing and robins twittering; a great-crested grebe on the lake obligingly ‘barked’ for us and a grey heron flew in. We heard more Cetti’s and some distant blackbirds and chiffchaffs.

The chiffchaffs were louder near the recently opened Tar Lakes fishery (which some of us used to refer to as ‘the sand martin lake’). The stretch from there down to the large Linear Fisheries lake was relatively silent except for blackcaps but we enoyed the sight of a fresh speckled wood and red admiral basking in the sunshine.

As we rounded the end of the lake, we heard several song thrushes; blue damsel flies (species not determined) were flying over the vegetation. A lot of red and black froghoppers (Cercopis vulnerata) were sitting on grass stems. A couple more Cetti’s were singing, as were blackcaps, which seemed to be everywhere.

Some of the group took a shortcut from Hardwick Lake back to the car park; the rest of us carried on to the bridge at Hardwick and then followed the Windrush upstream. Birdlife along there seemed non-existent but there were mayflies (probably Ephemera danica) everywhere – there must have been a recent hatch – and a good number of banded demoiselles (Agrion splendens) – which really are rather beautiful – by the river. The demoiselles appeared to be roosting collectively: in one place there was a group of at least thirty, probably more, roosting on the vegetation and more flew in and joined them while we watched.

In several places on the way round, we had seen spindle trees covered in the webs of spindle-ermine moth (Yponomeuta cagnagella) larvae, which had completely defoliated them. The most dramatic of these was near Gill Mill where there were balls of caterpillars suspended by threads of silk from the branches. Presumably they lower themselves to the ground like this before going off to pupate somewhere. It’s surprising that birds hadn’t taken them – they looked like rich pickings but must be distasteful. We wondered if the spindles would ever recover from such a thorough defoliation.

Our way back from the disused ford took us across a field of Friesian heifers. They didn’t pay much attention to the first of us to cross but their curiosity got the better of them as the stragglers came along and decided to investigate. One of us had a stick which, being rather thin, was no more than a psychological deterrent. In the end they probably decided that we didn’t have anything for them to eat and kept at a respectful distance. (Was that in the risk assessment? They weren’t there on the recce!)

Our curious friends….

A group of goldfinches was twittering at the top of a chestnut tree near the car park when we got back there shortly after 8pm. The Cetti was still singing loudly.

Although the birds were quieter than we’d hoped for, we heard a remarkable number of Cetti’s – at least ten, although we weren’t really counting – and all the more remarkable because Cetti’s are quite recent arrivals in this part of the UK.

Although there was less birdsong than we’d hoped for, it was an interesting walk and at least one person said that they could now certainly tell their Cetti’s from their blackcaps!

Sue Morton and John Cobb, 3 June 2022