North Nottinghamshire Bird Tour

Today was the date for the first North Nottinghamshire Bird Tour of 2012, so I've had an eye on the local bird and weather reports for the last few days. On the bird front things were looking promising, on the weather front - well to use a weatherman's phrase, the weather was "changeable" to say the least.


Sherwood Heath


I met the four participants in the car park at the Ollerton Tourist Information Centre and after the introductions we began the tour. As we spoke, a coal tit began to sing from a nearby tree and without even moving from the car park we managed to pick up blue tits, great tits and a great spotted woodpecker on the feeders outside the Info Centre. We decided to take a walk around the adjacent Sherwood Heath to see what else was around and headed along the circular path round the heath noting a robin sat on a gorse bush. As we approached he began to sing so we stopped and admired his efforts for a minute or two. Meanwhile a dunnock skulked through the undergrowth, doing its best not to get noticed by us as we passed by. A magpie flew over and then we noticed several carrion crows feeding on the open grassland in the centre of the heath. On closer inspection we noted some jackdaws mingled amongst the crows, thus trebling our corvid count in less than a minute. As we walked back towards the car park a flock of small, energetic birds came circling through the silver birches. As they came to rest and began to busily feed in the trees we managed to identify them as lesser redpolls, the males showing that characteristic red forehead which gives them their name. These highly social birds flock together in noisy groups as they feed in the branches, chattering away in harsh, metallic bursts.  At this point we were treated to the first of many heavy but brief rain showers during the day so we headed to the car and set off for our next stop.


Boughton Brake (taken in autumn when it wasn't raining!)


On the brief car journey to Boughton Brake we saw a kestrel hovering near the roadside looking for small mammals no doubt, rooks feeding in a field next to the roadside (clearly noting their white beaks), house sparrows congregating in a hedge and several black-headed gulls also feeding in a recently ploughed field. Boughton Brake is a small woodland near Ollerton containing both coniferous plantation and mature sweet chestnut, penduculate oak and silver birch areas so we were optimistic of picking up a few woodland specialists while we were there. We weren't disappointed as almost immediately we heard a treecreeper singing nearby. It took a while to locate the bird, but then we watched it busily running, almost mouse-like up the tree trunk before flying back to the bottom and starting again. An hour walking through the woodland added wood pigeon, collared dove, greenfinch, chaffinch and blackbird to the day's list but we also had three other highlights. Firstly, we watched a goldcrest flitting through the pine tops. Secondly, we saw a mistle thrush singing even though it was raining (the old English name for the mistle thrush is stormcock due to its fondness for singing in the rain). And thirdly, we spotted a nuthatch feeding on a large sweet chestnut tree, showing how it can run just as deftly down the trunk as well as up it.


By now the rain was lashing down, although within 5 minutes we had experienced, rain, sun, rain, wind, driving rain and seen a rainbow, so the forecast of changeable seemed fairly accurate, so we headed back to the car and onto our next stopping point.


As we drove through the arable landscape surrounding Walesby we watched mixed flocks of gulls (lesser black-backed, great black-backed, herring and black-headed) soaring and circling in the strong winds and rain, perfectly at home as if they were riding out a North Sea storm. The hedgerows lining the country roads were filled with fieldfares and redwings gorging themselves on the still bountiful supplies of hawthorn berries, fueling themselves for their journeys back to mainland Europe once winter is over.


Next stop was Bevercotes Pit Wood, for a quick look for siskin which had eluded us so far. We weren't disappointed as the Alder trees lining the river were buzzing with these busy little finches dangling upside down from the alder cones. Amongst the siskins were goldfinches also feeding on the alder and a flock of long-tailed tits were noisily passing through on their foraging mission. A rather bedraggled buzzard was sitting    in a tree, clearly too wet and too unimpressed to bother hunting until the rain stopped. As we walked back towards the car we disturbed a jay who loudly expressed his displeasure at us as he flew away. We were pretty cold and wet by now, so a coffee and cake stop at Thaymar Cafe seemed like the sensible thing to do. We must have looked a pretty odd sight as we stood there at the counter dripping water whilst discussing hot chocolate and cake!


After the welcome snack stop, we headed northwards, past Retford to the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust's Idle Valley Nature Reserve. This reserve has grown so much over the last few years and is a credit to the hard work of the staff and volunteers there, not idle at all in fact (poor pun, I apologise).


Rural Learning Centre at Idle Valley


By this time, the rain had finally stopped, but the wind seemed to have increased which I thought might decrease our chance of seeing small birds, that would probably just hide in the undergrowth rather than risk battling against the wind. We headed into the reserve through the willow sculpture, hoping to find a few birds  looking for shelter, but saw nothing at all in the willow coppice.


The Willow Archway


We took the pathway between Bellmoor lake and a smaller wooded pond on our left and began to scan the lakes. Soon we had mute swan, coot, gadwall (easily identifiable with that distinctive black rump), tufted duck, mallard and black-headed gull on Bellmoor lake so we turned our attention to the smaller, quieter pond sheltered behind the trees. At first, we saw a few coot and nothing else, but then we spotted a goosander - a handsome male cruising gracefully across the pond. Then we noticed he was heading towards a group of three more males and a female who seemed to be sheltering near the bank.  Goosanders are a lovely bird and not always that easy to find in Nottinghamshire so we were pleased to have the opportunity to watch them at such close quarters.


Female Goosander


We continued down the path and watched a wren skulking in the undergrowth. At this point the path runs between the main lake and the river so we alternated between looking for birds on each side. The small weir on the river is sometimes a good spot for grey wagtail, but today the weir was swollen with all the recent rain and the only thing to be seen in it was a stray car tyre which was being tossed end on end by the current.


Weir on River Idle


Across the river in the field behind we could see several carrion crows feeding, and a group of five moorhens doing the same. Further down the path we caught a glimpse of the familiar white rump of a male bullfinch feeding on the seed heads of dead weeds which lined the river bank. We stood and watched and noted three more male bullfinch along with one female and a female chaffinch who seemed to have joined the party.


At the far end of the lake furthest from the Rural Learning Centre the wind was whistling across the lake at great speed, whipping up the surface into significant sized waves. A group of coots were bobbing up and down in the water looking liked feathered black rugby balls as they battled the elements. We stopped to watch them through the boarding that forms a hide, but the force of the wind was so strong that it was making the wood vibrate and hum. A group of half a dozen immature herring gulls were plunging into the water feeding on something, but the waves were too large for us to see the surface and work out what it was.


View from the far end of Bellmoor Lake back towards the Rural Learning Centre


As we turned the corner to head back towards the car park, we scanned the small island to see if any birds were sheltering there. A group of teal were feeding in the shallows, their iridescent dark green tear dropped shaped eye patches clearly visible. Such a small duck, but a very striking one. Also sheltering by the island were a few pochard and two more female goosander which was a nice surprise.  We continued back towards the car park, mostly with our heads down against the wind, but occasionally looking up to see if there was anything new on the lake. On one such occasion we were greeted by the sight of four more male goosander and two more females, bringing the total to ten, which is pretty good. We nipped into the Rural Learning Centre for a quick look round and a chance to grab a cuppa and amused ourselves watching two great tits and two goldfinch hanging determinedly from the bird feeders which were being blown almost horizontally by gusts of wind.


By this time it was almost getting dark even though it was barely 4pm but the rain had set in for the day and the skies were black with heavy cloud so we decided to call it a day.  Despite the less than ideal weather we had clocked up 43 species for the day, the highlight undoubtedly being the goosanders, which just goes to show you don't always need sunshine to have a great day's birding.

2 thoughts on “North Nottinghamshire Bird Tour”

  • Anke and Jasper

    We were visiting from Netherlands and friends in Newark suggested we did one of these tours in November 2012. It was interesting to see different birds and habitas, Nottinghamshire is much different from the landscape in Overijssel.

    Andrew took time to show us things and nothing was too much trouble. He even took us for a traditional "pint of bitter" after the tour. Andrew when you are in Netherlands come and see us and we will show you our fauna and buy you our beer :)

    Love from Anke and Jasper x

  • Andrew (Verdant Wildlife)

    Goedenavond Anke and Jasper,

    I'm glad you enjoyed the tour. Hearing about your bird watching experiences in Netherlands was very interesting and comparing which birds are common or rare in each region was fascinating. I'm up for some Dutch beer and birding at some point, so keep in touch.

    Tot ziens (see I remembered a couple of the Dutch phrases you tried to teach me!!!)
    Verdant Wildlife
    Recreation - Education - Inspiration

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