North West Zone - View from the grassy slope
The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Winter Thrushes survey is a nation-wide study monitoring winter visiting and resident birds and the habitats they occupy. So far, I have carried out two surveys in October and only recorded two Blackbirds. As Tom Forward (Gatwick Greenspace Partnership) has more recently been hearing plenty of Redwing around Tilgate Park, it was with higher hopes on Friday that we set out around the North West Zone.
Weird grass goo - at first glance it looks like wet soap powder
It was a cold and grim morning as we began our route at the water treatment pond, so it was quite a contrast to be greeted by a flock of 16 Ring-necked Parakeets flying overhead. These bright green exotics are part of a colony on Charlwood Road and whatever your view on their pest status, I quite like the sound of their uptight squawking. Looking back down to the ground, we noticed some strange and gooey deposits scattered through the rough grassland...
Slime Mould covered in dark spores
I think this is a species of Slime Mould (Mucilago crustacea), aka the Dog Sick Slime Mould; when it is freshly emerged it is bright yellow in colour! My apologies if you were eating your breakfast just now.
We looped around the northside of Brockley Wood, entering the sheltered scrub and marsh area to the west. Here we paused as a large band of small birds passed close by us, moving through the scrub. In this single flock we counted around 20 Long-tailed Tits, 18 Blue Tits, 7 Great Tits and one Wren. You may notice my birding photos have not really improved with time.
Passing tit flock
Back-end of a Long-tailed Tit feeding in a Willow
Other birds we recorded here included Blackbird, Reed Bunting, Siskin, and a flock of Lesser Redpolls which were passing overhead. A Roe Deer suddenly hared down the track at light-speed, followed by the not-quite-fast-enough Border Control dogs which are regularly exercised by staff in this area. At the hedgerows to the south, we heard our first Song Thrush having a confusing sound-off with a nearby Dunnock, in turn seeming to do a great impression of a Blackbird.
While ascending and descending the grassy slope, a group of 6 Skylarks wheeled overhead, calling excitedly before settling down in the distance.
Pushing on to the hedgerows south-east of Brockley Wood, the shrill 'sreee' of Redwings signalled our first winter thrush species. It seemed to be only a single pair in a flock also made up of Song Thrush, Blackbird, more roving tits, several Nuthatch and Treecreeper.
It was the remains of a Grass Snake dangling in the hedgerow, high enough off the ground that it must have been dropped there by a bird. Our guess is that one of the resident Common Buzzards snatched it, sat in the tree above the hedge and then accidentally dropped its lunch.
Skin 'n' bones
Ok, so maybe it is a bit hideous, but still an interesting find! The particularly gruesome part was that the body was wrapped tightly around a branch - a feat possibly achieved while trying to free itself or during its death throes. A pretty undignified end!
The autumn has been fantastic for berries, so right now the birds are pretty spoiled for choice. However, this crop of food is going to be essential this winter if it turns out as cold as has been speculated.
Rambling rose suffused with rose hips
Sloe berries on the Blackthorn
Approaching the end of the survey, we squelched through the waterlogged and boggy area by the Compost Field woodland fragment. Whilst distracted by stagnant freezing water suddenly over-topping my boots, we inadvertently flushed a Woodcock, giving a loud clatter of its wings as it shot off through the willow scrub. It took us by surprise despite this being the ideal feeding grounds for this bird! Also a new first for Gatwick since we began recording birds here... once again never a dull day with the indomitable Mr Forward!
Eurasian Woodcock (Scolopax rusticola) - RSPB Website
Our Winter Thrushes route, taking in as many of the different habitats as possible