Birdwatch New Year to End ofMarch 2018, by Paul Snell

Bird Report for St Mary`s Allotment   New Year to late March 2018

Our allotments provide a varied and valuable wintering area for many of our birds. All the rotting apples are eventually discovered by the fieldfares and redwings once the weather turns sub zero. These thrushes from Scandinavia, and beyond, strip the hedges of berries by Christmas and the rotting apples are a life line for them when conditions get really tough. Blackbirds, song thrushes and mistle thrushes continue to feed on our land too, and will soon be providing us with the dawn chorus at 5am!

The fruit trees and bird feeders attract blue and great tits, as well as small flocks of long tailed tits, along with occasional coal tits. Goldfinches are attracted by niger seeds and split sun flower seeds in feeders, as are green finches, which are becoming quite rare at the moment. Bull finches occasionally appear, still in pairs even in winter. They have a distinctive flutey call that give them away in the fruit trees. Decades ago their numbers were so large around Evesham, and caused so much damage to orchards, that they were deliberately netted and killed… ( they eat fruit tree buds! ) Today they are rarely seen unfortunately. Around the perimeter of the allotments there are some large mature trees that attract other birds, including nuthatches and greater spotted woodpeckers, again distinctive calls give their presence away before they are seen. Wrens remain over the winter and often roost in birdboxes left over from the previous season, all piling in together to keep warm overnight! Another tiny bird to look out for, which produces a tinkling call even in winter, is the goldcrest.

Green woodpeckers are often on the ground feeding and particularly like the grassy bank of the reservoir. Their call is loud and slightly maniacal, and regularly seen where there are fruit trees.   This time of year sees plenty of birds from the crow family on our land. These include jackdaws that turn over manure looking for earthworms. They are quite bold and usually seen in small groups feeding together. Magpies move around at this time of year in groups of 10 or more before they pair off. Jays are only occasionally seen, usually coming over from Newbold direction. Another crow occasionally seen overhead is the raven. These birds started coming back to Warwickshire maybe 20 years ago as they became less persecuted by gamekeepers. They can be seen, usually seen flying high overhead, in pairs and produce 3 very distinctive deep croaks in succession. Finally the carrion crow is a regular visitor, and relatively common. Other wintering birds include wood pigeons which do so much damage to our brassicas at this time! Stock doves are a scarcer bird seen occasionally, while collared doves are a regular.

Up in the sky, birds of prey drift across from all around, and are often difficult to identify without binoculars. Recently buzzards have started being more vocal again to announce their presence to others, and often can be seen in groups of even 5 or 6 birds, as they circle overhead, trying to establish a breeding territory. The hovering kestrel is an occasional visitor feeding on our mice and even earthworms. Sparrowhawks can be seen daily hunting by flying fast and low through the fruit trees, while they also fly up high, circling around with distinctive rounded wings, in comparison to the pointed wings of the kestrel. Sparrowhawks disappeared from the countryside in the early 1960`s due to widespread use of DDT, now they are really quite common. Another bird of prey to look out for is the peregrine falcon, that also nearly died out for the same reason. These nest on the top of Leamington town hall, where a webcam films their every move later in the spring. Peregrines in winter fly far and wide to feed on pigeons mainly. I see them overhead maybe just once a month in winter, and they are easy to miss, despite their size. They too have pointed wings, but spend time high in the sky circling around before heading off in a very determined straight flight path towards a completely unaware pigeon at incredible speeds of over 100 mph! When seen close they quite a large powerful bird of prey.  Just this week there was a red kite flying at roof top height over the allotments. This was definitely an unusual sighting, but hopefully one that will become common. They particularly like rabbits!  These may eventually nest in Warwickshire, but at the moment we are more aware of them on the M40 around the Chilterns heading into London.

The reservoir attracts an interesting range of birds over winter. These include black headed gulls, which are just starting to get their breeding season black heads now. Another species of gull regularly seen flying in are lesser black backed gulls which greet each other with loud vocal calls more reminiscent of seaside towns around our coast. One bird to look out for is the cormorant that quite regularly fly in towards the reservoir, usually from Draycote, where they feed on their fish! They are a large black estuary bird from our west coast, and often arrive in groups. Herons too regularly fly over. Canada geese flocks that have been so prominent flying around over the winter are now breaking up and are pairing in preparation for nesting. Mallards too use the reservoir and fly backwards and forwards from other local stretches of open water.

Spring is hopefully on the way and the millions of summer migrating birds will already be leaving the African continent and flying over the Straights of Gibraltar. The first birds to get here are usually sand martins, seen over the reservoir, and chiffchaffs, calling from the tops of the trees on a cold sunny morning in late March!

Remember to clean out your bird boxes of last year’s nests if you have not done so. They harbour all sorts of unpleasant parasites, so you are doing this seasons nesting birds a big favour!!

Paul Snell