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)
|The Great Wood, Northaw|
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|
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.