This has to be my favourite time of year for birdwatching. Migrants are back and watching the antics of fledglings on my fence whilst enjoying my morning coffee has always been a treat. Usually at this time of year as a family we would be out exploring the local area and travelling further afield but due to the recent events this has been curtailed and we have had to rely on our garden more and are very lucky to be able to take our daily exercise in the woodland.
I have always been amazed by the amount of bird life in Dunain Woods. Moving to the area over 4 years ago and seeing Siskin and Redpoll at our garden feeders was a surprise and welcome change from Sparrows at our old house (not that there's anything wrong with sparrows). Wildlife has carried on oblivious to lockdown, you only have to stand and listen to the dawn chorus to know that it is business as usual for the wildlife. Aside from the very noisy Song Thrushes and Blackbirds you can hear the sounds of some of our summer visitors. Chiffchaff are usually the first of the migrants to return, very similar in appearance to Willow Warblers they are easily identified by their ‘chiff chaff chiff chaff’ sounding call. Black caps flute like song has earned them the name ‘Northern Nightingale’ a short stroll up the hill and you can hear the many males vying for the attention of the chestnut capped females.
If the climb up the hill sometimes feels difficult, spare a thought for the House Martins, these little black and white hirundines you see flitting about collecting mud to build their nests in the eaves of houses, have just made a long journey from Africa or Asia where they spend the winter. Slightly later in returning this year it’s great to watch them flitting about eating bugs and very frustrating trying to get a photo! Other migrants like swallows and swifts are also seen flying around chasing the multitude of flying bugs amongst the trees.
On any day in Dunain Woods you will see Birds of Prey. The amount of voles, toads, rabbits and other small mammals support a diverse range of Raptor species. Red Kite are very common and identifiable by their forked tails and agile flight style. Buzzards seem to be doing very well and can fly quite low over the houses at times, if not chased off by the nesting crows! Recently our local pale Buzzard was spotted carrying a small stoat. If you feed the birds you may see Sparrow Hawks regularly checking out your garden and flying very low over the fences chasing their next meal. Kestrel regularly hunt for voles over the grassy areas, instantly recognisable by their flapping hover whilst eyeing up their prey.
We do on occasions get a rare sighting of larger Raptors passing through. The last two winters we have spotted White Tailed Sea Eagles flying over the woodland. These huge birds have an eight foot wingspan and often referred to as a flying barn door, they can range quite far in the winter months so worth keeping a look out especially when there is snow on the hills. However a Golden Eagle is extremely rare, so imagine our excitement a few weeks ago when we spotted a young Golden Eagle over the woodland being harassed by a buzzard and managed to get a photo.
Ospreys are also regularly seen flying over carrying fish. So whilst looking at the bushes and in the trees during your daily walk is always a good idea, it’s worth keeping your eyes to the skies too as you never know what you might see!!
Debbie Borthwick is a Dunain Community Woods Trustee and lives locally to the woodland.