Plus pic of cuckoo for roundell

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Dawn Chorus

I hadn’t been drinking when I agreed to join Robert Brown on a dawn chorus along the new Nidderdale Greenway one morning. There can be no doubt however that getting up to start a walk at 4:30am whilst it is still dark is surely not the action of the truly sane! Now many birds start their singing just before or immediately after it starts to get light and the chorus is at its best at this time. It’s also fascinating to discover exactly what birds are calling when, but it certainly surprised me that the very first bird to call was Peter ‘The Pesky’ Peacock! A few days later I believe he chose to roost on next door’s roof and I can assure you he only got around six hours sleep that night. Anyway, peacocks excepted, we started from Bilton and headed towards Killinghall and our initial journey was heralded by blackbirds, robins and a surprisingly high number of song thrushes, all very exciting once the shock of an early morning start had worn off. I always thought that members of the tit family were usually last to sing or at least call, but they hadn’t read the book and great tits were especially vocal. We walked all the way to Killinghall Bridge and pretty much all of the more common birds were encountered, although it seems some summer migrant birds are either not here yet or their numbers are very low, very few swallows, hardly any sand martins, a couple of swifts and no house martins. I fear for these harbingers of summer. A great sight, although brief, was a tawny owl, often heard but rarely seen in my experience. Strain our ears as we could we heard no cuckoos, although Agnes Farrar had reported one in this vicinity earlier in the week. Agnes is the only person to report a cuckoo and I am anxious to hear about other cuckoos in our area. Other unusual birds, or less common birds, include common whitethroat and blackcap. Garden warbler and blackcap both have a delightful melodious call but they are difficult to distinguish. The books seem to suggest that garden warbler sing longer, without a break, than blackcap and one particular long singing bird clearly hadn’t read the same books as us because after a long search it revealed itself as a blackcap, very disappointing. Equally disappointing was the lack of a barn owl, but generally it was a good way to enjoy our wildlife. Other sightings included our first jogger at 5:45am, first cyclist around 6:15am and first dog walker some time after that. If you choose to go out on a dawn chorus it’s best to try to do so before the leaves are on the trees and walk with someone who will recognise at least some of the songs. But bear in mind that if you hear a song you don’t recognise you can always home onto it with the binoculars to identify it. Finally we heard a second peacock calling from Killinghall, it’s a sad world we live in when there are more peacocks than cuckoos! Mammals encountered included bats and roe deer. We did see one cuckoo, however - a plant called cuckoo pint.


Pat Everest, from Fearby, writes, “I had such wonderful sightings last week. At the beginning I heard and then saw two curlews fly over the garden, hopefully they were going to the field by Low Moor as that is where they usually nest yearly. I have still had bramblings in the garden but to top it all I had a fantastic sighting of a red kite. As usual whilst watching the birds in our conservatory, I could not believe my eyes as this kite came swooping up the field being chased by a jackdaw. It came low and straight towards me. I grabbed my binoculars and had such a great view of it, the markings on the under-wings were beautiful. At last I have had a wren around. I was worried as I had not seen one for a long time, I usually have quite a few nesting. I thought that the bad winter might have killed them off (lack of insects). Lastly, I had some fun this morning. I had a stoat playing in the garden, it was lovely to watch, running about.

John Wade writes, “I am amazed, just seen 12 waxwings in a tree in the new estate at the side of the St Georges, Harrogate, cricket field. Surely this is very late. Will they go back?” Like siskins and redpoll, these birds are irruptive, sometimes arriving in vast numbers. This year we seemed to have few berries for them and they apparently went much further south than usual. I guess that means it is much later when they return on their journey to Scandinavia. Although these dates are late, they have been sighted even later and some late dates include May 22 1977, at Almsford Bank, Harrogate and May 29 1977, in Knaresborough. I recall that 1976 was a very cold year so they most probably again had to travel further south than usual.