It was very humid today, with sunshine through the middle of the day, but overcast and still conditions returning in the late afternoon. Over the last couple of weeks I had wanted to get out with the bat detector, and to see if there was anything else of interest around at dusk, but the weather had not been suitable, tonight though the conditions appeared just right.
I set off walking up Kitwood path, from the main road. and heading towards the Newtown Plantation. The Buzzard that had perched so gingerly on the power lines yesterday seemed to be still there this evening, it did seem a little bit more relaxed, if indeed it was the same bird.
As I walked up the path, Blackcap sang from the bushes and a few swallows flew low over the field. The plantation was very dark, despite the fact that there has been some tree felling, and several large trees have been removed. I checked the bat detector, because it was so dark, but there was nothing about.
I walked around by the farm, and close to the farm buildings were a pair of Hares. I also flushed another from the side of the path, and a way off in the distance on the other side of the field there were two more sitting still. I headed off down the path towards Plash Wood. Under the tall dead tree alongside the path there were droppings on the ground, and quite a few pellets, when I broke these apart Ii could find small bones and a lot of brown fur. I suspect the tree is used as a night time perch by an owl, but which species I am not sure. It was now about 20.30, but it was quite gloomy. Away to the west the sun was sinking into the horizon, and there was some sign of red in the sky. Any photographs i take from now on were going to have to be with a very high ISO
I passed the entrance to the wood, and walked out to the edge of the field. I could see three brown marks in the field, and checking closer could see they were Roe Deer. This one kept stretching its neck and looking up to the sky like a "sky hopping" whale!
But everything was calm, and they turned and walked away, using the tracks of the tractor wheels to make it an easier route through the wheat field. After a while they paused to look back at me.
One feature of the evening was the constant noise from the nearby A32 of motorbikes. If you look in the above photograph you can see one just passing the barn. From the noise of the accelerating engines, I am absolutely certain these bikes were not doing the national speed limit.
I left the deer, and walked back towards Plash Wood, and took the track along the main ride. A Chiffchaff sang from the small willows, and there was a family party of Nuthatches calling from the top of an Oak tree. As I walked on I heard a familiar song from close to the path, it was Firecrest. I stopped to find it and quickly picked it out at the top of a small Silver Birch. It was extremely dark in this area, and what with the gloom and the mobility of the bird it was almost impossible to get a good photograph. This was the best I could manage, but from the bill and outline you can see it is a Firecrest.
As I watched this male singing and moving through the trees I noticed that there was another close to it, and when I managed to get a good view of this one I could see it was a female, and it was carrying food. The female disappeared, but the male stayed in view, so I decided to leave them, and continue on in my search for the intended evening's quarry. As I walked away I could still hear the song.
By now the sky had cleared of cloud, through the trees the moon could be seen rising to the west.
I walked down the main ride, and then took a side path. Song Thrush and Robin were competing against each other with their song. For volume the Song Thrush won hands down. A Tawny Owl also called from deep in the woods, a bit of a mixture of "keevit" and "twhoo". After that I could hear a Blackbird scolding, so the owl had probably been found.
I came back out on to the main ride, and almost immediately found what I had been looking for.
A roding Woodcock. Woodcock are crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk) and rarely active during the day unless they are flushed, when they fly off with a whirring wing noise. Their flight is some what bat or owl like, and while they fly fast and direct when migrating in woodland they fly erratically with a twisting and fluttering action.
Between April and June the male performs a courtship display flight called 'roding' at dusk . It flys over the treetops with flickering wings and downward-pointing bill, and utters several deep croaks followed by a sharp squeak. It was the squeaks that alerted me to them as I walked along the ride. I believe there were at least four different birds here, as they flew over and then another would be seen coming from a different location.
The sounds that they make can be measured, although I wasn't able to pick them up on my bat detector as the frequency was too low, but from the corresponding spectrograms it is possible to reliably identify individual birds, and therefore use the counts of roding birds as an indicator of the population.
I had met a person earlier that evening who was conducting just that study and he told me they had counted 18 birds in this wood alone, but their efforts to catch them in mist nets had not been so successful and they had only caught two. He also told me that they were likely to be about from about 21.15, which was spot on.
The Woodcock enjoys a place in British history with it considered to be a real delicacy over the years, and a recipe features in Mrs Beaton's books (hence my title today). The Woodcock is also mentioned in Shakespeare's plays, normally around its supposed surprise and ease at which it was caught in "gins" or "springes". The surname Woodcock was also associated with a fool or simpleton due again for the manner in which it was caught. An old folk name for the Goldcrest was the "Woodcock pilot" because of the mistaken belief that the birds rode in the feathers of migrating woodcock.
I walked up and down the ride for a while watching and listening to the birds as they flew above me, but then it was getting very dark so I decided to make my way back. As I came on to the footpath, the detector started up, and I could see Common Pipistrelles flying around the the trees, the call being the slapping sound on the detector.
Almost immediately I also noticed two more Woodcock coming at me from the Maryanne Plantation on the other side of the field, and as I walked a little further two Woodcock together came out of Plash Wood, and headed across the field in the opposite direction. This time I was ready, and although they are grainy, and not pin sharp, it captures the moment, and the jizz of these evocative birds.
.I carried on walking back to the car, continually scanning for both bird and bat. I saw the unmistakable silhouette of a Red Kite gliding above the trees in the distance, but there was no sign of any owls, and the only bat I came across was another Pipistrelle by the large barn. I did though flush another two Hare from the field. Coming down past Newton Plantation I found three more pipistrelle where the footpath goes into the dark, and as I drove past the primary school a Tawny Owl flew across the road in front of me. Quite a successful night missing only a Barn Owl, but there will be other times to seem them I am sure.