On Sunday, 28th April, Colin Potter, a popular local ornithologist, conducted a walk around the Abbey Fields, highlighting the variety and abundance of bird life to be seen and heard.
A group of twenty, a mixture of FOAF members and others, were entertained and informed by Colin’s knowledge of the habits and songs of the different birds.
Species that were seen or heard included the wren, blackcap, goldfinch, wood pigeon, jackdaw, robin, song thrush, stock dove, chiffchaff, chaffinch, nuthatch, and long tailed tit.
The dense vegetation bordering the banks of the stream is vitally important for several of the wild birds, and if possible must not be overtaken by the rampant non-native Himalayan Balsam. Here the wren builds a nest on the floor, amongst the nettles and brambles. Each male controls a territory, tens of metres long, along the stream bank – the bigger the territory the more attractive to the female. Only the male has a song, a very loud chirping for the size of bird!
The blackcap has a sharp metallic call. The male has the black cap, the female, brown. About the size of a sparrow, it used to be a summer visitor but is now not uncommon in winter.
The goldfinch is a success story as far as numbers go – possibly responding to sunflower seed provided in bird feeders! They nest high up in trees, and the nest has a lip around it to prevent the eggs rolling out as the tree sways in the wind.
The ivy around trees provides a useful source of insects for many birds. Damaged and dead trees provide habitats.
Birds can spend their lives in a limited area – buildings, such as the swimming pool, can be interpreted in their eyes as mountains and a boundary to their movement.
The wood pigeons have thrived, in part due to the widespread cultivation of oilseed rape – the oily seed being particularly beneficial to their diet.
The chiffchaff, about the size of a blue tit, and predominantly green in colour, is the earliest warbler to arrive in Abbey Fields. It is named after its song, which appears to repeat its name. The domed nest is constructed at a low level in bushes or grass.
Stock doves are without the white neck collar of the wood pigeon, and slightly smaller. They were spotted flying to the lake area to take seeds from flower heads.
A song thrush was seen feeding on a flat grass area – it has a cream breast covered with brown spots. The population has declined by 50% in the last 50 years due partly to the loss of woodland and hedgerows.
On the lake, a male mallard was aggressively protecting a female from the attention of several other males. Six young mute swans – probably all from the same family and about a year old – still showed feint signs of brown colouring. It takes up to two years to become a mature adult.
Colin emphasised the importance of bird surveys, and it is the intention of FOAF to move forward this year with a survey of Abbey Fields. A clearer picture of the precise numbers and locations of the different birds provides valuable information in the ongoing protection of the natural environment of the Abbey Fields.