Woodpigeons don’t often steal the show but they did this morning. There’s been an influx in the last week or two, with noticeably large flocks building up on the mosses in particular where the poor summer has left a number of spoilt and unharvested crops for both birds and mammals.
This morning as I drove across Stalmine Moss and then Pilling Moss towards Out Rawcliffe I noticed there seemed to be even more than the usual hundreds of Woodpigeons about. As I stopped to watch many thousands of them were flying over, pausing to look for food in the hedgerows and fields, all the time their numbers swelling into huge, massed and urgent flocks which continued south and east until many were out of sight. After a while I had estimated several thousand woodys, upwards of 10,000 in all.
While the Woodpigeon is an essentially sedentary species in the UK, it has a very large range in most of Europe, especially in the north and east where it is largely migratory, responding to both cold weather and food shortages by travelling huge distances. Some individuals reach Spain where they target the woodland acorn crop So it appears that this year, and just like the more exotic and sought after Waxwing or Brambling, the unloved, mostly ignored Woodpigeon is the latest species to become a victim of the poor acorn, berry and beech crop in Europe.
To put my meagre count into the larger perspective - in Europe, the breeding population of the Woodpigeon is estimated to number 9-17 million breeding pairs, equating to 27-51 million individuals (BirdLife International 2004). Europe forms 75-94% of the global range, so a very preliminary estimate of the global population size is 30-70 million individuals.
I stopped on Union Lane where like recent weeks, yet another Kestrel posed up for a portrait. What a shame a stray branch intervened to spoil the shot. It was almost 10am but a Barn Owl was hunting too and unlike the Kestrel, the owl didn’t want to pose up so I made do with a distant record shot.
Rawcliffe Moss could have made for a disappointment after such drama; however a few bits and pieces made for an entertaining hour or two. Wandering through the plantation revealed my first Woodcock of the winter as it crashed from a clump of bramble to give the usual few seconds of in-flight views. “Small stuff” count: 2 Fieldfare, 1 Goldcrest, 7 Reed Bunting, 15 Goldfinch, 20+ Chaffinch, 22 Tree Sparrow, 4 Blackbird, 1 Mistle Thrush, 2 Skylark, 2 Great-spotted Woodpecker. Non-passerines: 1 Kestrel, 3 Jay, 1 Buzzard.
Another unwanted branch spoiled the ‘pecker shot too.
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