Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Early Breeding Bird Survey: North West Zone 24/04/18

While I often deliberate wearing gloves and scarf, the chilly early mornings don't bother the breeding birds, and in April you are almost guaranteed a lusty dawn chorus.

Tom Forward beginning our bird transect in the North West Zone

We began our survey sometime after the dawn chorus ends, as this is when birds are more active and getting on with their day. Along the first section of the River Mole, one of the first species for the list was a warbler; a male Common Whitethroat in the scrub where the river pops out from under the runway. A loud scuffle between two male Reed Buntings caught our attention, then a moment later we heard something quite different; a manic chattering and trilling call from a hedgerow...

A Sedge Warbler! Our very first for this site survey (and hopefully not the last!)

Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus) RSPB


A Blackcap sang from another hedgerow, Blue Tit and Song Thrush were calling as we passed by. Rounding the bend of the river, Linnets were calling overhead and we spooked a Green Woodpecker, which shot off with a yaffling cry.


The wheel ruts along the track have become especially deep in the past year, which is good news for the frog population. We often get both Common Frog and Marsh Frog on site here, but these look like the usual Common Frog tadpoles.


While Tom is distractedly checking Reed Beds for our elusive Water Rail, I sneak a peak under one of our reptile refugia...

Grass Snake (Natrix helvetica) juvenile, less than one year old

Keep your head in the game Rachel, back to the birds! 
We were treated to the fluttering display flight of a Common Whitethroat on top of the riverside willows. Over in the scrub west of Brockley Wood, we added Chiffchaff to our list of warblers heard today, with it's easily recognisable, onomatopoeic song.


Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybitaRSPB


Along the bases of these hedgerows grow the strongest smelling spring flowers; Wild Garlic or Ramsons (Allium ursinum) is an incredibly pungent plant, very much like onion or garlic in its taste. Much to Tom F's dismay, I can never resist chewing on a leaf or two.


We set off again in an oniony-fugue, with Tom determinedly keeping upwind of me. As the day was warming up, the scent of Bluebells began to hit us and they were smelling great (even if I wasn't).


Brockley Wood

At the woodland edge, we picked up another Chiffchaff and the excited song of a Goldcrest, our smallest bird species. We haven't had a single record of Firecrest at Gatwick, but as their range is seemingly expanding, I'm betting one will turn up here eventually.

Goldcrest (Regulus regulusRSPB

Firecrest (Regulus ignicapillusRSPB



Back out onto the floodplain, and the Reed Warblers were chugging their songs from deep within the reed beds. Our first Swallow of the year flew low overhead, calling relatively quietly so we were lucky to spot it. We were a couple of kilometers into the transect when a strange rattling call came into range; the call of Lesser Whitethroat is pretty unmistakable!



We don't tend to get high numbers of Lesser Whitethroat, so it's always a real treat to hear one. Our next warbler on this warbler-fest was Garden Warbler, which was singing heartily while being chased around by a territorial Blackcap.

Adjacent to the reed beds of the River Mole are dense stretches of Water Mint and nodding heads of Cowslip... even the refreshing smell of crushed mint doesn't mask the Ramsons though.


Nearing the end of the final transect, we witnessed an incredible performance by a Reed Warbler incorporating perfect Blue Tit alarm calls into its song. We then came along another Sedge Warbler near the Long-horned Bee bank; could this be a new breeding territory? Our final warbler of the day was Willow Warbler, bringing our total number of warbler species to 8: Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Common Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Garden Warbler and Willow Warbler. That's quite a high number, so we think that perhaps this day was a 'fall of warblers' and some of them may only be passing through. It will be interesting to see what turns up again later in summer.

Full bird list (39 species):

Blackbird Turdus merula
Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla
Blue Tit Cyanistes caeruleus
Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula
Carrion Crow Corvus corone
Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita
Coot Fulica atra
Dunnock Prunella modularis
Garden Warbler Sylvia borin
Goldcrest Regulus regulus
Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopus major
Great Tit Parus major
Green Woodpecker Picus viridis
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
Jackdaw Corvus monedula
Jay Garrulus glandarius
Kestrel Falco tinnunculus
L.Whitethroat Sylvia curruca
Linnet Carduelis cannabina
Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus
Magpie Pica pica
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
Moorhen Gallinula chloropus
Nuthatch Sitta europaea
Pheasant Phasianus colchicus
Reed Bunting Emberiza schoeniclus
Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus
Ring-necked Parakeet Psittacula krameri
Robin Erithacus rubecula
Sedge Warbler Acrocephalus schoenobaenus
Skylark Alauda arvensis
Song Thrush Turdus philomelos
Stock Dove Columba oenas
Swallow Hirundo rustica
Whitethroat Sylvia communis
Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus
Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus
Wren Troglodytes troglodytes