Welcome to my birdwatching blog. This blog will contain stories about my bird watching trips, interesting bird news and other tales that may or may not be bird related. I want to make it useful to the avid birder as well as those who may only have a passing interest in bird watching. I enjoy photographing bird life, common and rare through a spotting scope, not that they always sit still long enough for me. Being on the outskirts of North East London, my reports will not only cover my local patch of Redbridge/Waltham Forest, but also dip into deepest Essex, Suffolk, Kent and Norfolk.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Nuthatches in Northaw

It’s late November and with only one month left until the end of the year, my Year List is looking pretty shabby. I have kept records since 1997 and this year is looking close to being the worst. Before today, I was floundering on 142 species and to highlight the pure pathetic state of this, my lowest total ever was 144 when I didn’t even own a pair of proper binoculars.

For example, I still haven’t seen kingfisher, brent goose or rock pipit this year and before today, nuthatch, treecreeper and siskin were nowhere to be seen. Dire straits indeed. So something had to be done.

Now I could have nipped over to Epping Forest for these birds but I have always loved and enjoyed an ancient woodland near Cuffley. The Great Wood at Northaw is one of the best woodland I have ever walked. Made up mainly of Oak, Ash, Birch, Hornbeam and pockets of Sweet Chestnut, this SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest)

Some trees
The wood has three main trails, red, blue and yellow. The one I find best for birds is the yellow trail that circumnavigates the wood and actually seems to have less activity from the many families and dog walkers that you get there at weekends.
The Great Wood, Northaw
The trick to seeing woodland birds is to find the tit flocks. You could just find a place to sit and wait because the flocks will eventually find you. But I only had a few hours and sitting in a damp wood in winter temperatures isn’t really a lot of fun. So I just walk and listen.

Once I got onto the Yellow route, things started to liven up. The first sign you get is usually either the long-tailed tits calling with their zee-zee-zee call or that of the goldcrest (Britain’s smallest bird) a high pitched zi-zi-zi-zi call. In my case, it was both pretty much at the same time and although on paper they might sound similar, they are quite different and distinct.
The main problem is of course, trees are by nature, quite tall and these birds seem to prefer flitting from one tree to another high up in the canopy. It can be neck-breaking stuff, Plus, on a bleak day like today, everything is dull and dark and difficult to distinguish. Photography was clearly going to be a non-starter as these birds are constantly moving and what light there was would have stumped even Louis Daguerre.

Everything happens at once. One minute or hour, you’re in total silence with only the sound of your own cursing as you stumble over hidden root or losing your foot in twelve inches of muddy bog and the next, the air is filled with sharp calls and a visual activity that makes it difficult to focus on one bird or branch.

Oh, there’s coal tits, blue tits, great tits, loads of long-tailed tits and even one marsh tit flitting from on tree to another and then more come and there’s a larger bird, not a tit but a nuthatch, separate from the rest but still part of the party. Woodpecker too turn up. Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers are on the periphery. No treecreepers though but there is still time.
Worst ever photo of a Nuthatch, if you can see it!

Great Spotted Woodpecker
The footpaths were muddy and mushy from the rain and fallen leaves. The balance of watching the treetops with watching where you walk is exhausting. My plans for an all day 'amble' were looking less inviting now. The weather too was working hard to pain me. Low temperatures were beginning to numb my hands and I had left my coffee in the car so I hoped to get my target treecreeper soon.

More goldcrests and long-tailed tits drew me to a stop. A cigarette later and the trees around me were swarming with small birds. More coal tits and nuthatches and yes, a treecreeper. These fellows fly to the lower parts of a trunk or branch and then walk up the tree searching for grubs and insects.
So, two hours in the wood had produced only 15 species but 2 of these could be added to my list. The Great Wood is a wonderful place to be. Muntjac Deer are common (if you get here before 6am!) and the Rhododendrons in early summer are amazing although a bit of a pain as they take the place over. More about the wood and its magic can be found at: http://www.friendsofnorthawgreatwood.org.uk/

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