Not Quite Spring, And a Lot of Robins!


After a few weekends stuck indoors with inclement weather and a bad dose of the sniffles, I finally managed a bit of a stroll on my local patch the other weekend.

The weather forecast had been for bright, sunny and (almost) warm weather, however the sun was intermittent and the temperature was still south of the double figures predicted!  Nevertheless, I was pleased to get out into the fresh air and stretch my legs!

I have been hearing, not only the Robins which regularly visit my garden, but also those that have territories just inside the woods at the top of the road.  Sure enough, as I walked up, there was one singing from the top of the hazel and just inside the woods, in the tangle of Blackthorn, the usual resident was hopping up and down between the branches and a particular patch on the ground. 

Distracted for a moment by a scrabbling - two squirrels chasing through an old Hawthorn, 

I turned my attention back to the Robin.  He was concentrating on the leaves, which seemed to be moving by themselves!  I stood quietly for a while and watched a little mound of leaves heaving up and down, so I waited, thinking that possibly it could be a vole or maybe a Woodmouse, however, instead of anything emerging from the leaflitter, the little pile simply kept heaving up and down.  Then some of the leaves nearby began to move of their own accord and the Robin hopped down again and gave a clue as to who was under the leaves as he picked a tasty morsel - an earthworm. 

The robin flew back to a nearby branch to consume his meal and I looked a little closer; first a big pink worm quickly crossing the surface of the leaves nearby, 

then a wiggle or two from a few others - the earthworms were fleeing from a Mole digging underground for food!  Throughout the woods, where the earth is soft and also in the fallow field, along the woodland and field margins, there are often lines of molehills.  I have yet to see a live one, however, when a female mole is ready to breed, then she will drive out the youngsters and they very often will move overgound to find a new spot to dig down again.  At this point they are extremely vulnerable and I have, on a couple of occasions found dead moles amongst the grasses in the field, left behind possibly by a predator having been disturbed.

 Anyway, the little pile of leaves kept intermittently heaving, worms kept appearing and the Robin, after a short serenade, sat waiting for me to go so that he could continue to take advantage of the Mole's excavations. 

I decided to have a peek out at the field and along the woodland edge, it's a bit like bird telly, looking into the wood from the outside and sometimes can be quite good for smaller birds along the margin, however apart from a solitary Crow strolling along and having a peck about 

and a rather alarmed Rabbit, who paused momentarily before diving down into one of the burrows along the ditch, 

it was quiet, so I continued back into the woods, to see what I could see!

As I started to follow my usual route, I checked at the pond where the Frogs usually congregate, whilst the Frogs in my garden pond have been singing for a while, the woodland pond is still and quiet - not time just yet for the Annual Frog Ball!

 I could hear Great Tits declaring and see them flitting about overhead.  Here and there Chaffinches were perched and some were also chattering away. 

 Most of the vegetation inside the woodland has died right down through the winter, Ivy shrouds some of the trees and there are a few big Bramble patches, which are favoured by Wrens.  Here and there small clumps of Scarlet Campion leaves have begun to appear as well as the lacey foliage of Ragged Robin, along with fresh shoots of stinging nettles.  This time last year, the greenery was further advanced, however, the Bluebells have finally started to shoot through, 

and the Lords and Ladies have also started to appear.  

 Many of the Elder trees have also started to shoot as well, 

 There are no signs yet of Primroses, Wood Anemones or of the Aconites or Wood Violets... but they will come! Crossing over a small stream, I decided to have a tiptoe around the wreckage of an Ash tree which came down over the winter.  Over the past few years, I had watched Great Spotted Woodpeckers rear a family from it and also Blue Tits nested in it too.  It was shrouded in ivy, but looking at where it had broken at the base, it had been going rotten for some time.  

The remains of the tree are still covered in ivy and is providing cover and food for the smaller birds, whom I have watched foraging - Blue and Great Tits, Dunnocks hopping around underneath and eventually, bugs and beetles will move in as well.  

From one of the dead Ash branches, I was being serenaded again, whilst being kept under close scrutiny - one of the Robins which favours this part of the woods.  I listened and watched, 

Then a tiny brown movement caught my eye, hopping about in the wreckage of the tree, then flitting to the top of a nearby Bramble patch - one of the Wrens! 

A brief declaration and look round, before flitting off deep into a nearby Holly bush, to repeat the song and have a look about; from various parts of the woods - expected spots, I could hear other Wrens declaring similarly.

 More scrabbling and scampering around the trees was heard and I could see two pairs of squirrels spiralling up and down the treetrunks ahead of me.  Now and then they would pause, looking for the one that had got away, who was usually sitting watching for the pursuer to start chasing again! 

Walking on, from time to time I could see Chaffinches flitting and also caught glimpses of more Great and Blue Tits.  The Blues were in some cases in pairs that were in hot pursuit of each other, or foraging amongst the branches 

Whilst the Great Tits were either calling or feeding but never remaining still for very long.  I carried on walking towards the south-western end of the woods and peering against the sun, I could see a few blackbird sized birds flying higher and higher up into the tree canopy.  As I was peering against the sun, I couldn't at first figure what I was seeing, until I managed to see a couple of them right at the top of a tree. 

During the autumn I would often hear a quiet 'seee' overhead of a night time and last winter, I found quite a large flock of them unexpectedly further west on my route, looking almost straight up, I could see around half a dozen Redwings perched here and there - more relaxed now that they could survey what was going on below! 

Standing until I had a crick in my neck watching them, I heard a mewling cry overhead, closely followed by Crows grumbling, peering through the branches, I could see one of the Buzzards  soaring overhead and also being warned off by the Crows. The disturbance was enough to upset the Redwings and off they went.

Redwings are mostly winter visitors and tend not to breed here but return to Scandinavia and Northern Europe, departing in late March or April.  

Leaving the woods, I crossed over to the north side of the meadow, to see who was about along the brook.  As I crossed the grass, I could hear Wrens and from various points along the brook, I could hear several Robins singing.  I stopped briefly to have a peer at where the Common Lizards colony is, just on the off chance that the sun may have warmed that spot sufficiently, however there was no sign so I wandered along a bit.  Overhead in an Oak tree, I could hear one of the robins and looked for a while before I spotted him in full song, 

He would sing several phrases, then pause, cock his head to one side and listen, then continue.  After a while I realised I was listening to not one, but two Robins quite close together - usually they are a few trees apart!  I began to look amongst the lower branches, when a movement, much closer, caught my eye, about three metres away in the Bramble bank, singer number two was watching me inquisitively and then continuing to sing against the one higher up in the tree. 

After a while, I continued on away from the 'sing-off' and went closer to the brook.  On either side of this stretch, the banks are covered in Brambles and the patch is favoured by Long Tailed Tits for nest building and other small birds as the cover is good.  

 With the Robins singing away in the background, I soon heard bubbling and chattering and thought that one of the troupes of Long Tailed Tit were progressing through the Birch trees on the far side, however,  as I watched I could see a pair of Long Tailed Tits flying back and forth to the same spot under the Brambles on the far bank, they appeared to be collecting materials and were in the process of building a nest. 

 A little further along, a different song caught my ear, it was a Dunnock or Hedge Sparrow.  I have been seeing these courting in my back garden for some weeks now and had also caught a few distant glimpses of a couple on the far side of the brook wing-flicking at each other.  The singer was not one of these, but was sitting a little way apart in one of the willows. 

Further along the brook, I saw more Dunnocks, a few Chaffinches perched deep inside a huge Blackthorn bush and overhead, from time to time I would also hear the chatter of Goldfinches as they flew from treetop to treetop.  Peering up into the Alder trees that the Goldfinches favour, I still couldn't see them, however, here and there Blue Tits were agilely feeding amongst the branches. 

Realising the light was starting to go, I decided to head back up the hill along the edge of the next band of woodland.  Robins, Dunnocks, Great Tits and Blues were all flitting back and forth into the woods, or across to the far side of the brook as I walked up.  From time to time I would see a Blackbird and could hear a Wren from down in the undergrowth along the ditch.  

At the top of the hill, I could hear a loud 'Pitchoo Pitchoo' call... This could mean only one thing - the Marsh Tit was about!

I walked to the corner of the wood where he is usually seen and sure enough, rarely stopping still, there he was calling, flitting and listening. 

After a few moments all became clear, from further along the trees there came an answering call and after following him along the tree line, I was lucky enough to see who he was calling and looking for, another Marsh Tit. They foraged around amongst the branches for a while, before continuing away along the edge of the woods. I saw both of them there briefly at the end of last year, so I am hoping that they are a breeding pair and will be keeping a lookout as the months progress. 






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