Friday, 17 April 2015

Spring birds in the woods and in the garden

Blue tit foraging in the garden Blackthorn blossom, April 17th

 A good year for Blackthorn blossom.

Common Buzzard with Carrion Crow
During the last week I've made plenty of woodland walks around Orlestone Forest and Shadoxhurst. It's now the middle of April and with sunny skies and a rise in temperature, it's been no surprise our woodland migrants are slowly arriving here, all be it in low numbers. 

In Long Rope and Birchet Wood there were 2 Nightingales present in each wood on April 14th along with one Whitethroat in the former. In Birchet Wood there are 2 Willow Warblers present joining many more Chiffchaffs. Also on the 14th we heard our first Cuckoo from the garden and it was present near the fields of Duck Lane, Shadoxhurst. There seems to have been Swallows and House Martins in twos and threes around for about a week now. One day they're here, and then the next they're gone.

Usually by now spring breeding Blackcaps should be common and competing with Chiffchaffs for song across the forest, but so far this spring Blackcaps are just about absent from the woods. Luckily, we've had 2 Blackcaps calling and visiting the garden Blackthorn so they're present but not in great numbers yet.

In the forest, there is a impoverished sound to the dawn chorus with too many birds missing.  For instance I've found it hard to locate many Nuthatches, and Great Spotted Woodpeckers - they just don't seem to be as vocal and viewable in any numbers this year. Even worse, this spring, I've yet to locate our scarce and nationally declining Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers but in contrast Green Woodpeckers seem very local and are very easy to see both in the woodlands and pasture fields around the village. In Packing Wood, Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests are extremely numerous in the mixed pine woodland walk from Capel Road. Stock Doves are present in dozens in the farmland opposite.

The only surprise bird for me has been a Crossbill flying low over Alex Pastures April 12th. Crossbills are sporadic visitors and breeders in Kent and whilst last winter we had plenty of them around, there have been no sightings since then.

Birds of prey are well represented at the moment, Buzzards continue to be omni-present, and we have a pair of Kestrels displaying and calling close to the garden too. Friends are reporting Red Kites and Ravens locally but I've not seen either this year yet. A lone male Sparrowhawk has been displaying over Shadoxhurst for some weeks now, but it's looking increasingly lonesome as I've yet to see it flying with a mate, something you'd expect to see in early spring.

Tawny Owls are common and calling from every woodland I visit. Their presence draws me to the conclusion that they may have driven away the smaller Long Eared Owl, which I've not heard for a decade now. Little Owls are not difficult to locate around the village and Barn Owls are present in fields between Shadoxhurst and Woodchurch.

Walking through Birchett Wood last night, a Woodcock was flying and 'roding' across woodland rides, a sure sign that this was a breeding bird patrolling a territory. Sadly, with many breeding woodland bird species lost in Kent, the Woodcock could now be the rarest breeding bird in Orlestone forest, or will it be the next to vanish?