Occasional articles charting the progress of the seasons and describing some of the rich variety of wildlife in Fineshade Wood.
1st February 2022
Birds on a winter's day
Siskins have to be one of my favourite birds. A small, delicate member of the finch family with subtle yellow-green shades on streaky plumage. Most winters we see small flocks of them in Fineshade, but yesterday I suddenly realised that I hadn’t consciously seen any yet this year and they hadn’t been coming to the garden bird feeders as they usually do in the winter. They can often be seen or heard feeding on the small cones on Alder trees, so I decided to visit one of the areas that were planted with Alders over 30 years ago. It has to be said that they are not the easiest birds to spot in the tree tops so before I set out I played this audio clip – just to remind myself of their calls.
It was a clear sunny morning with a strong arctic wind stirring up last autumn’s fallen leaves. Soon after I entered the plantation a large brown bird suddenly took off and zig-zagged away through the trees. A Woodcock, another of Fineshade’s winter visitors. Like the Siskins they come from Scandinavia and benefit from our generally milder winters. I realise that I have probably never seen a Woodcock standing on the ground – they are masters of camouflage and always see me coming before I see them. Perhaps this bird will be one of the very, very few Woodcock that stay to breed in Fineshade. If so I may see its distinctive roding flight above the tree canopy one warm still evening in a few months’ time. I blow into my hands – summer cannot come soon enough.
Siskin feeding on Alder cones.
Photo Bob Bullock
I wander on through the plantation and my rambling thoughts are suddenly interrupted by the distinctive sounds I’d heard before leaving home. Siskins. It sounds like lots of them, but where are they? They are not easy birds to see but there’s some movement and, with the help of binoculars, I’m finally able to focus on one, two, more of them. I notice the forked tail feathers – one of the features that make the bird stand out if you can only see it in silhouette. A few minutes pleasant watching all the time accompanied by the continuous chattering calls. Great! Suddenly the tone of the calls changes and the flock takes off – far more of them than I thought. Maybe 30 or 40 altogether.
As I leave the plantation I decide to take a detour to visit Middle Pond where I had seen a large gathering of Mandarin Ducks a couple of weeks ago. There’s only one there today. The others are probably on Blatherwycke Lake where large numbers gather in winter – they will probably be courting in today's sunshine. My one is a rather splendid male, looking entirely exotic, which of course the species used to be. They escaped from captivity and are now wild populations becoming established here.
Woodcock in flight. Photo Jeff Blincow
Middle Pond is looking really good after Forestry England’s team cleared it a couple of years ago. Not many people know its whereabouts which is good for the ducks and other wildlife. However, I think we may share the secret of its location during one of the guided walks we are planning for the spring. (Watch this space!)
Male Mandarin. Photo Bob Bullock
Middle Pond on a January day
Photo Barrie Galpin