Sunday, April 24, 2016

A Close Call

I didn’t venture far but stuck to Pilling with a wander around Fluke Hall. I hoped for a few newly arrived birds and a chance to check out the resident nesting species. 

Hardly anyone walks along the road that cuts through the trees at Fluke Hall. In the early morning there’s just a procession of cars loaded with dogs. Buy a dog and get fit. But first you have to load the animals into a vehicle and then transport them miles from your home to take part in the walk, preferably with dozens of similarly minded people. And then at the end you load the dogs up again and drive back home? Is it me? 

In between the noise of vehicles rushing past me the bird song and random calls returned, but finding a small bird in the now burgeoning spring growth is a difficult business. It’s when a birder’s trained ears become the first weapon of choice and binoculars an afterthought. Of summer migrants I located Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers and Blackcaps, at least three each of the first two and a single only of the latter. 

Willow Warbler

There were Goldfinch a plenty, Blackbird galore, the chatter of Tree Sparrows, the drumming and “chick” calls of Great-spotted Woodpeckers, and even the rarity of a singing Greenfinch to enjoy. Rarer still I spotted a pair of Treecreepers moving though the higher branches. The species is now so locally scarce that seeing one is something of an occasion. 


The everyday stuff of Blue and Great Tits, Dunnocks, Robins, Wrens and Starlings added to the woodland feast. Wood Pigeons clattered from the trees when I walked past their resting places as a pair of the less boisterous and much shyer Stock Doves flew silently from the canopy. Crows alerted me to a male Sparrowhawk which circled above before the crows won the day and the hawk retreated to cover. 

A Starling dried out in the sun after a bath while singing and wing-flicking to his mate. Although superficially the same at this time of the year, a close up view of each sex will show that a male has a blue base to the bill, whereas the opposite sex prefers a feminine shade of pink. 


A good selection of species then, and a pleasant hour or two of birding, but more than one species was missing. There was no sight or sound of Song Thrush or Mistle Thrush, an absence of Kestrels near their regular nest box, no mewing from overhead Buzzards and few birds newly arrived. And where are the Goldcrests this spring?

Such is the incentive and ultimate reward for knowing and learning one site over many years rather than dashing here, there and everywhere in pursuit of “message birds”. 

Along the marsh I found a Curlew and a Whimbrel close to each other, two species which are sometimes confused by inexperienced birdwatchers, perhaps because it is not always easy to make a side by side comparison. The Curlew is the bigger of the two, with a body size which rivals that of a large Gull, whereas a Whimbrel is closer to the size of a Black-headed Gull, but if they’re not standing next to each other there is no direct comparison. 

Curlew and Whimbrel

The Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus and the Curlew Numenius arquata are close relations in the large family of Scolopacidae - waders or shorebirds. The family includes many species called sandpipers, as well as those called by names such as curlew and snipe or ”shank”, although there is but a single whimbrel. The majority of these species eat small invertebrates picked from the mud or soil. Different lengths of bill enable different species to feed in the same habitat, particularly on the coast, without direct competition for food. 

Inland of the marsh were dashing Skylarks, displaying Lapwings, Redshank and Oystercatcher, a Reed Bunting, a pair of Pied Wagtails, a Wheatear and a Whinchat. 


There was nearly a sticky end for the Whinchat when a male Sparrowhawk appeared from nowhere, flew low and fast, slowed montarily and then stretched out a talon to grab the chat. The Whinchat spotted the hawk at the very last second and dropped out of view. 

Phew, that was a close call. 

Did everyone "click the pics" for better views of the birds? No problem, just head back and start all over.


Denise inVA said...

Fantastic photos! I am glad you reminded us to enlarge. You really do get a clearer and more appreciation for how beautiful they are. Glad to read the Winchat's reflexes saved his day.

Margaret Adamson said...

A wonderful selection you had today and great to see the Whinchaat. I saw several Mistle Thrush the other day I was at Mount Stewart.

Lowcarb team member said...

I always love to click on the pictures ...

So pleased to read that lovely Whinchat did have quick reflexes!

Interesting to read about the Curlew and Whimbrel - the more I visit the more I am learning, so thank you.

Hope the weekend has been a good one, the 'arctic air' has certainly been blowing cooler!!!

All the best Jan

Frank Boxell said...

My patch is predominately surrounded by woodland so more species are generally heard than seen. Still waiting to see if a Willow Warbler pops in this Spring .... now somewhat of a local rarity.

As for the dogs ... I joined a walk on another birders patch on Saturday and struggled to find a parking place due to the volume of dog walkers!!

Linda said...

Beautiful series of such lovely birds!

Stuart Price said...

Nice to capture the 2 curvy billed waders together............


Yep, yep....I tend to return over and over at my favorite spots and know just about what birds to expect in what season. It gives me incentive to re-visit each sight. Then, there are those migrants that are only here for just a short few days at the most, and I DO keep my eyes and ears open to those who have spotted something/some bird in a certain area....I have been known to chase a few in hopes of finding a 'new' bird. I'm like that.

Yes, close call indeed. I know when a hawk is coming near most parts...when the other birds make a ruckus and fly away frantically. I'm glad for the Whitchat...and hope the hawk found a SNAKE instead! White meat is healthier!!

David Gascoigne said...

Great job, Phil. An interesting and informative post.

NC Sue said...

Very nice series of shots, Phil. Thank you for sharing at

Sallie (FullTime-Life) said...

Whew -- I'm glad that whinchat made it -- that is the first time I remember seeing a picture of that bird and I would have felt quite sad if you'd said it was it's last picture!

Lovely birding day ... thanks for the help on the shorebirds; I hope I remember that. They're all really hard for me, but they make me smile whether or not every correctly ID them.

Terri @ Coloring Outside the Lines said...

Great post, Phil, and wonderful shots. Thanks for sharing!

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