Our birds are mainly of lake and deciduous woodland, and among the wildfowl subtle changes of species and plumage can be observed as the year turns. The male Mallard loses his bright green head feathers by July, and becomes plain brown and difficult to distinguish from the females, not regaining the full breeding colours again until early autumn. This “eclipse” period renders the wildfowl flightless, and the numbers here swell as safety from land predators is sought on open water.
In recent winters Gadwall have appeared, with up to 35 pairs in residence, easily seen between the island and the road bridge. Intermittently they are joined by odd numbers of splendid Goosander, a bird which breeds on mountain lakes and rivers, but obviously enjoys our stocks of fish which it catches with an efficient serrated bill from which there is no escape. The handsome white male flushes pink when excited (don’t we all?) and displays to his female with neck outstretched on the surface of the water. You will need binoculars for a decent view as they are not tolerant of people close by. Coot, Moorhen and Grey Heron are well suited to our environment, and the much more shy Little Grebe also breeds here, betrayed by it’s shrill call, in the privacy of the undergrowth.
Imminent spring migration swells our avian population with the arrival of various warblers and Hirundines (Swallows and Martins) who catch our abundant insects on the wing. Like most birders I delight in the anticipation of their arrival, heralding warmer and longer days, and marvel at the journeys these tiny birds undertake.
Our black and white architecture is ideal for the mud and feather nests constructed under the eaves by House Martins for example. These migrants have crossed oceans and deserts twice over to return to precisely the same nest from which they fledged last summer – please think of this before knocking down an established nest or boarding up your eaves just to avoid a few droppings on your paintwork during the brief nesting period, and enjoy the nightly flights of as many as fifty of these dark blue, white-rumped birds as they collectively swoop back and forth over our houses each summer evening.
Our woods hold many species of common songbirds, plus migrant warblers such as Chiffchaff and Blackcap, both of whom are very vocal on arrival. Great-spotted and Green woodpeckers are local, and Nuthatches and Treecreepers swell the list. Noisy Jackdaws are everywhere, engaging in fascinating “there and back” pre-roost flights in a cacophony of sound each evening. (Our local population often shows unusual and distinctive white markings, as though splashed with white paint on wings and tail.)
Last summer we heard Cuckoos calling several times in early summer, a first for us in our twelve years here during which time we’ve observed seventy-five different bird species.
Buzzards are very common now due to a recent welcome change in shooting policy. Voracious Sparrowhawks whizz through periodically, murderous killers but stunning to see. Tawny Owls still chorus and Red-legged Partridges and Pheasants seek shelter in our gardens when the Estate holds a shoot – a dozen Red-legs cowering under the gazebo has become a common sighting.
Foxes and badgers pass through the woodland occasionally: I have watched a fox rolling in the patches of Wild Garlic near the far lake shore. I think the farmers have shot most of the Grey Squirrels; I wish they could get the local and viciously predatory Mink in their sights as well. Last year we were amazed to find a beautiful Polecat in our yard, having built itself a shelter from dry leaves behind old wooden ladders, and it enjoyed a few well-fed days stealing from the hedgehog’s saucer. This is an endemic British mammal and not a pest; the website set up to record them were delighted to hear of our sighting.
Who knows what might turn up next?
Bostock Hall Estate Resident