Every day when we arrive at CAT, a new email lies waiting for us telling us about birds, plants and flowers slowly creeping out of their winter slumber. Rennie Telford is one of CAT’s expert bird watchers and as Spring fast approaches we want to share with you some of Rennies insights into the wonderful world of nature.
Last week Rennie spotted around 10 or 12 crossbills in the topmost branches of some conifers. When there is a shortage of pine cones in certain areas there occurs what is known as an irruption as large flocks of crossbills fly great distances and invade localities which are heavily forested with conifers, so they might be around again. It is an unusual enough sighting as crossbills have never been seen at CAT.
Alright , I know it’s freezing cold and frosty, but spring is on the way – trust me. The early morning bird song around site is increasing daily, with more and more different species starting up. This morning we had both the Mistle Thrush and the Song Thrush blasting away from the trees. For those non-naturalists amongst you, a good rule of thumb to differentiate between the two is that the Mistle tends to sing from an elevated and exposed position at the top of the tree whilst the Song generally favours singing lower down and somewhat more concealed. Also the Song is smaller and more round shaped and of course the song is completely different— or it was – my earsight’s not what it used to be!
Sometimes we tend to overlook the more common birds because they are always there, but they can be just as, if not more, interesting than the unusual ones. Take the ubiquitous robin – there are several pairs on site and although they can be endearingly tame and confident around humans, they are aggressive little buggers to each other. They are extremely territorial and each pair has their own area which they defend robustly against other robins. The edges of these areas tend to overlap and this is where fairly evenly matched skirmishes occur – but when, say, T chest area birds penetrate deep into Cabins area birds’ territory (for a prime food source perhaps) – then the Cabins birds will attack quite viciously and generally dominate the invaders. When the situation is reversed, the T chest birds wiil usually come out on top. So the next time you pause to listen to the melodic outpourings of a cute little red breasted robin perched on a branch in the weak spring sunshine — remember the song translated is probably ” F*** off out of my manor innit, or I’ll have you”
Back to Robins. If you want to try and identify birds from their song ( which opens up a whole new world ) , the robin , at this time of the year is an ideal bird to start with. As the trees are bare of foliage it is easy to see a robin perched on a branch singing its lovely , liquid, warbling song. Once you have seen it, close your eyes for a couple of minutes and concentrate hard on the song — get it firmly in your head and then listen out for it over the next few days. After a while you will find that you recognise this particular song, even when there is a veritable cacophony of other bird song around. Then progress to other easily recognisable birds – blackbirds, chaffinchs, blue tits etc. and repeat the process –locate, identify, close your eyes, remember it and listen out for just that song for a few days. You will soon build up a mental library of bird song that will last you a lifetime.
Thinking about it , it is probably best to do this when there are no visitors around — the sight of CAT staff standing around with their eyes shut, listening dreamily to bird song doesn’t really tie in with the image we wish to present of a dynamic, highly motivated, perfectly honed, all action and totally professional workforce. Which of course we are (??)
It is a really good skill to master — I am not particularly good at it (exposure to AC/DC and Seasick Steve at maximum decibels has not helped matters either ) but if you are interested, sign up for the woodland birds thingy this Saturday ( see Grace ) and the dawn chorus walk which Grace is organising with a really brilliant lady from the RSPB is unmissable.
If you are walking or cycling up the south drive listen out for a sharp, staccato drumming sound in the distance. This is the Greater Spotted Woodpecker talking to other woodpeckers by performing its drumming routine. It finds a suitable tree and proceeds to bash it repeatedly with its beak producing a far carrying and resonant sound which has a peculiar sort of vetriloquism to it and is very difficult to locate accurately. There are at least two pairs of these strikingly exotic looking birds in or around the quarry, they regularly visit the Cabins’ bird feeders and they were also regulars on the feeders at the back of the shop outside the Courses office.
There is something really manic about these birds — after all any bird that decides to repeatedly head butt a tree has got to be a bit loopy –they even have a sort of built in shock asorber at the base of the beak to avoid brain damage. This head banging analogy was re inforced to me a couple of years ago when I was listening to a slowed down recording of the drumming while trying to count the rate at which it struck the tree ( I know— I really should get out more ) and it sounded for all the world like the riff from Smoke on the Water!
These heavy metal head bangers of the avian world , also have a rather gruesome side to them and will enlarge the holes in nest boxes, of other species to get at the eggs and nestlings inside , to provide a high protein supplement for their own brood — which is why it is a good idea to reinforce the area around the entrance with metal or thicker wood and of course never put a perch below the hole.