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Birds

(This page contain the text relating to birds from the booklet The Countryside of Warsop Parish - Birds, hedgerows and plants in around the Hills and Holes that was published by Warsop Footpaths and Countryside Group in 2001. Most of the text appears elsewhere in this site, linked to areas on the Hills & Holes map)

For many people, birds provide the most readily recognisable signs of wildlife in an area. They are mobile, often colourful, and their calls and songs punctuate walks in the countryside. Without them our countryside would be a much poorer place.

Warsop Parish contains a variety of habitat-types that provide a wide diversity of choice for birds. Each different habitat, from recent conifer plantations to ancient woodland; from ancient pasture to newly ploughed fields; from arid sandy ground to flooded fields and marsh, provides the right conditions for a different grouping of birds.

The location of Warsop Parish within the British Isles ensures that birds that are often associated with either more northerly or southerly areas can be seen here. So there is plenty to see for both the expert and the majority who have little or no experience.

Since WWII, birds have had a hard time. Pesticide and herbicide usage has increased many-fold, changing agricultural systems and calendars, increased human population and the resultant higher levels of disturbance have affected some bird populations dramatically. While some bird species such as Magpie and Collared Dove have benefited from the changes, many once common birds have declined to the point where they are now considered endangered. Even birds that everyone can identify such as House Sparrow and Starling are now thought to be at risk, yet barely two generations ago, flocks of Starling blackened the skies around our villages.

The area covered by this booklet, is special as much for birds as it is for plants. Although there are no large flocks of single species, it is remarkable for the total number of species found. Each part of the area provides a different set of conditions that suit particular birds at different times of the year. Therefore each visit is an opportunity to see different birds. The area is not managed as intensively as most farmland is nowadays, and that brings benefits to the birds. Whether it is insects in summer, seeds in autumn or berries in winter; there is always some food available for one species or another. This mosaic of grassland, arable fields, scrub and mature trees is a rich source of nesting sites, that suit birds that nest on the ground, in low shrubs, tall hedges or in trees. Summer or winter migrant, or year round resident; birds find the area a welcoming place to visit or stay. We hope you do to.

Because birds are mobile, it can be difficult to state exactly where you will see particular birds. Instead the numbers beside the text denote general areas where you are more likely to see particular species.

During late summer and early autumn crops are harvested and fields cleared. Seed eating bird numbers build up into flocks to take advantage of the plentiful food that traditionally has been available from fallen corn. The flocks often consist of thousands of birds of mixed species of finches and sparrows.

This is the time that birds are starting to build up their body reserves in anticipation of winter after they have completed moulting following breeding. However, more winter cereals are now being grown which are harvested earlier than traditional crops, and seed collection is more efficient so there is less food left in the fields for the birds. The long-term effect of this change remains to be seen. Perhaps alternative crops being grown might provide other opportunities for these birds.

Take a closer look at the sparrows. Are they House Sparrows or Tree Sparrows? Both species have suffered serious drops in their numbers. The House Sparrow population has seriously declined in recent years, while Tree Sparrow numbers have been dropping over several decades to the point where they are now considered endangered. You can tell them apart by the chestnut head and smudged cheeks of the Tree Sparrow.

Wagtails are easily recognisable by the mannerism after which they are named. The most common species, the black and white Pied Wagtail is seen year round along the River Meden, especially on shingle banks and bridges.

A second species, the Grey Wagtail is worth looking out for. The name is a misnomer because the bird is recognisable by its yellow and grey colouring. It is most often seen from Hammerwater Bridge looking upstream towards the railway.

In late autumn and winter, the Hills and Holes generally, is an important source of food for winter visitors from Scandinavia and Russia. Several members of the thrush family can often be seen feeding off Hawthorn, Elder and Rose hips. Up to 3000 Fieldfare, Redwing, Blackbird and Mistle Thrush winter migrants use this area for feeding and roosting along with Collared Dove. This number of birds attracts predators and you may see Sparrowhawk hunting nearby.

During summer at Hammerwater Bridge, House Martins, Swifts and Swallows can be seen catching insects on the wing. The Swifts and Swallows travel from the surrounding villages and farms, but the House Martins may be nesting on the railway.

On late summer evenings gnats form swarm in columns reaching tens of metres high, rising from the ground. They are continuously attacked by the birds who fly through the narrow columns until it is too dark to see. Perhaps the shape of the swarm provides some protection to the insects as the birds only get the chance to fly through a metre width or less of closely packed insects, whereas if the insects swarmed horizontally, the birds would spend more time in contact with each swarm.

At Sookholme Lane railway bridge during the breeding season, you will see birds entering and leaving a number of insignificant holes in the bridge. These are Tree Sparrows. Traditionally, they are tree hole nesting birds but have adapted to take advantage of nesting opportunities provided by humans in areas that are not well inhabited by the builders. The small gaps within the stonework provide a safe place with a relatively consistent environment for rearing young. Unlike house sparrows, they are rarely found nesting in houses within the urban areas of Warsop Parish.

At quiet times, during spring and early summer, look out for a variety of finches along Spring Lane and the western end of Sookholme Lane. Each species has a slightly different bill design that allows them to feed from different food sources. Finches like all birds from a particular family have evolved so they do not compete with other species from the same family. Complete competitors cannot co-exist in the same place! Avoiding competing ensures the diversity of life that we treasure.

Greenfinch and Chaffinch are common. Look out for the green colour and yellow wingbars of Greenfinch, and the white shoulder patches and pink breast of male Chaffinch. Females are dowdier with an overall brown colouration but still have the white shoulders. You are unlikely to misidentify these birds in summer, but in winter they can be mistaken for the similar looking but usually smaller Siskin and Brambling that are often seen within Warsop Parish as winter visitors from Scandinavia and north Scotland.

Goldfinches occur throughout the lanes locally. Flocks that may number from half a dozen to a thousand may be seen darting about along the hedges twittering. Single birds are more often seen during the breeding season. Goldfinch particularly feed on the seeding heads of plants from the Compositae family such as Dandelion, Teasel, Daisy, Thistles and Knapweeds. So they are usually seen beside grassland areas. Although they can be difficult to identify at a distance, close up they are unmistakable as their gold, black and red colouring sets them apart from any other bird.

Bullfinch is not as common, but look out for a stockier finch-like bird with a broad bill and a prominent white rump. Males have a reddy-pink breast; females have a brown one. They often feed on the buds of trees and shrubs so are rarely seen on the floor except when drinking. You are most likely to see them before the leaves are fully out on the trees.

The mature trees on the wide bank of Sookholme Lane provide shelter and food for typical woodland birds. Tree Creeper can sometimes be seen in the wooded bank on Sookholme Lane working its way up the trunks and larger branches of trees. Its stiff tail feathers help the bird to maintain its position upright as it searches for insects in and behind the bark

Great Spotted Woodpecker might be glimpsed flying between the mature trees and along the railway embankment further on. Evidence that they have visited the area may be seen on dead tree limbs adjacent to the lane.

As you cross over Sookholme Brook on Spring Lane take the time to look along the watercourse, you may see Moorhen working its way along the water's edge perhaps with young hiding in the margins

The triangular section of the Hills and Holes, known by some as the 'Dell' is important for several birds typical of grassland and scattered scrub. Whitethroat and Lesser Whitethroat, Yellowhammer and Linnet are constant residents throughout late spring and summer.

Long-tailed Tits nest in several parts of the area. Unmistakable because of their long tails in comparison to their bodies; family groups of up to twenty birds are often seen working systematically through the trees incessantly calling to each other for reassurance. In winter you may see the remains of their dome-shaped nests constructed from moss, feathers and cobwebs.

Blue Tit and Great Tit often join with other tits to form feeding parties in winter. Because each species has different methods of feeding they can work together to strip trees of food.

Yellowhammer is often heard before it is seen. Listen for the males calling 'a little bit of bread and chee-ese'. Whitethroats are unremarkable looking birds at a distance, close up their bright breast colours and the pale grey head of the male make them unmistakable. They are known as 'nettle-pegs' because of the habit of several birds perching on the stalks of tall herbs and grasses like pegs on a washing line.

The Hills and Holes provides a good hunting ground for predatory birds such as Kestrel and Sparrowhawk, Barn Owl and Little Owl. The mosaic of grazed and rough grassland with banks, tall trees and shrubs, and scattered scrub creates a habitat they can all use to find food. The owls are most likely to be seen at dusk. Even the increasingly scarce Barn Owl might be spotted 'ghosting' across the more open areas.

Kestrel and Sparrowhawk are best seen if you can pick a good spot and sit quietly for a time. The Kestrel is the smaller of the two species and hunts mice and voles. It is known as the 'windhover' because of its ability to hover almost motionless in the breeze above a spot where it thinks there might be a meal.

Sparrowhawks hunt birds. They use surprise and fear to help them catch their prey. Flying silently between trees, and swooping low over hedges and shrubs they surprise birds who attempt to fly off in fear and are caught as the Sparrowhawk pounces. Sometimes you become aware that a Sparrowhawk is nearby from the alarm calls of birds nearby. They are known to time their own breeding to coincide with the emergence of Blue Tit nestlings so there is a ready source of appropriately sized food for their young. The female is bigger than the male and takes larger birds. Under a tree you might see the plucked feathers that are all that remains of a pigeon. Often the sign of a successful Sparrowhawk hunt.

From early spring to the middle of summer, it seems a Cuckoo can always be heard in the area. The large number of birds here provides many opportunities for the Cuckoo to lay its eggs in their nests. At rest this large bird is often mistaken for a Sparrowhawk, however, it does not have the same 'flap-flap-flap-glide' flight of the predator when flying over open ground.

The small area of woodland beside Sookholme Brook is important for the Marsh Tit and Willow Tit that congregate here. The diverse mix of deciduous trees provides an important food reservoir for these birds in winter. Very difficult to separate, the birds are distinguished from other tits by their black 'Beatle' type head colouring and pale breast.

Kingfishers are frustrating birds. They are most often glimpsed as a flash of brilliant blue out of the corner of the eye as they fly overhead at high speed, but have gone by the time you turn to look. This is made worse because the vividness of their blue colouring is even greater than any drawing, photograph or TV picture can show. With a little patience, several individual birds can be seen along the River Meden. Listen out for their piping call. Once you have learned to recognise the call, you are more likely to be ready to see when a bird appears. The best spots are where trees overhang the river at stretches where there is enough water to find sticklebacks and minnows or where the banks are high enough to allow nest tunnels to be excavated.

Wrens, robins and native blackbirds find the area useful for feeding. They are found scattered throughout the area close to the hawthorn that is so important in their lives, providing food and shelter year round. Patches of thick shrubbery prove rich hunting grounds for the small invertebrates on which they depend to survive the winter.

Wrens skulk though the lower branches, picking off tiny insects. The power of the Wren's song is astonishing. One can hardly believe such a small bird could make such a loud noise. During the breeding season, listen out for the brief rattle in the middle of a prolonged loud song from within deep cover.

Robins are found at all heights from ground to treetop. These birds are optimists, finding food wherever they can. They feed in the same places as both Wren and Blackbird but specialise in neither.

The Blackbirds feed on the ground, using the trees and shrubs for cover. They can be seen disturbing the carpet of leaf-litter in Hawthorn thickets searching for worms and other floor-dwelling food.

Goldcrest is one of the smallest birds found in the UK. Constantly on the move, these lovely birds can often be seen working through the trees and scrub on the Hills and Holes during the coldest parts of winter after they have moved south to avoid the harsh northern winter. Their high-pitched call often gives their position away. They are often fearless having arrived from poorly populated areas. If you stand still beside or under a tree they sometimes work their way to within a few feet of your position.

In the past, Nightingales were found in the area, but are only rarely found locally. However, other members of the Warbler family can be spotted but they do need to be looked for. Warblers are generally smallish, greenish or brownish birds. Remarkably unremarkable, leaf shaped and leaf coloured; they can sometimes prove impossible to see. But they often have very beautiful or easily recognisable songs.

Four species of warbler are commonly found across the area but particularly in the woodland downstream from the junction of Sookholme Brook with the River Meden.

The Chiff Chaff and Willow Warbler look very similar, but the Chiff Chaff's repetitive call from the tops of trees provides a sure way of identifying at least the males.

The Garden Warbler and Blackcap have similar songs. Long passages of lovely warbling song from deep within a thicket or tree. You need experience to tell them apart.

The settling ponds below the Rhein o'Thorns have recently been restored. It remains to be seen if Kingfisher and Heron will return. Perhaps you will be one of the first to see their return. Also look out for water birds such as ducks, Coot and Moorhen. They are often the first colonisers of new wetland areas. If sufficient marginal vegetation develops, Snipe may reappear along with other waders. Snipe were common on the Hills and Holes, the loss of an important marshy area in the 1970-80s has meant they are rarely seen now.

In the arable fields around the edge of the area, Skylark sing almost continuously from dawn until dusk during Spring and Summer. The males are proclaiming their presence and showing other males and females just how strong and fit they are by singing as loudly as they can while flying as high as they can. Don't be fooled into thinking you know where they are nesting from where they drop to the floor. The birds have a clever habit of moving along the floor some distance after landing. Designed to fool predators such as foxes, it works even better on humans.

Keep an eye out for ground-living birds in these areas. Pheasant is common, but you can sometimes see Grey Partridge as they lift their heads above the growing corn looking for predators.

In winter some of the lower lying fields attract waders, in particular Lapwing and Golden Plover. Flocks may number several thousand and contain both species.