What wildlife to look for in April 2018
My summary for the last month feels very similar to February’s account – periods of cold weather with the odd glimpse of spring weather. The first week of March produced four days of blizzard conditions. The snow that fell was soon blown into the hedge backs and roads by a strong easterly wind. During this period, there was a movement of thrushes and Woodcock. Fieldfares were turning up in gardens along with Song thrushes and Mistle thrushes.
In Glanton, I was able to study the pecking order in my 3m x 5m concrete backyard. We have a resident male Blackbird, who is bold and likes to keep order with the Robin and House Sparrow. Even the Starlings get short-shrift. On the second day of snow a Song Thrush turned up not looking in the best of health. Fortunately, a diet of apples and raisins soon perked it up. The male Blackbird was not impressed and would chase the Song Thrush out of the garden whenever it turned up. On the third day of snow, a Mistle Thrush turned up – extremely unusual to see this species in such a confined space. The Mistle Thrush ruled the roost – there was no Blackbird to be seen. The Song Thrush sat patiently as its cousin fed. Finally on the last day of the snow, a second Song Thrush turned up. This was larger than the first and I suspect was a male. Both Song Thrushes left together. Hopefully this is the local pair.
What birds to look for in April: Willow & Marsh Tits
These two species are difficult to separate especially if you do not hear calls or song. Both species have declined by over 50% in the last 30 years and are on the Red list of Conservation concern.
Willow Tits are to me slightly scruffy especially when seen head on. They are between blue and great tits in size, with no yellow, green or blue. They have a large sooty-black cap extending to the back of the neck and a small untidy black bib. The upperparts are mid-brown above, with whiter cheeks and pale buff-grey underparts. Its wings show a pale panel not always found in Marsh Tits. Willow Tits most distinctive call is a loud, full, emphatic, deep, deliberate and scolding djur djur djur or a more nasal chay chay chay, sometimes given as si si chay chay. This is often the way I find this species.
Willow Tits are constrained by their breeding habitat, especially by the need to find decaying standing timber in which they can hollow out nest holes. Wet woodland along riparian fringes are some of the best places to find this species. The Aln, Coquet and Wansbeck lower valleys are some of the best places to see this species in the County. Mark Eaton, at January’s talk, suggested that there were at least four pairs around the fringes of Alnwick. Birds also turn up at Branton, Hauxley and, further afield, Prestwick Carr.
The Marsh Tit is a small, mainly brown bird, with a shiny black cap, dark ‘bib’ and pale belly. In the UK its identification is made tricky by the very similar appearance of the British race of Willow Tit. They’re so hard to identify that ornithologists didn’t realise there were two species until 1897!
Marsh Tits diagnostic call is often described as a‘sneezing’ pitchou. It is perhaps more accurately transcribed as a double-noted si-soo, si-swee, swe-oo or squeesoo, often extending into, for example, swip swipzu zu or squit zee zee zee. The important point is that the first part of the call – a rising si, swip, squee or squit – has an abrupt, rather explosive quality.
They are a species of semi-natural woodland especially where there is Beech within the mix. Marsh Tits can often be found feeding amongst the litter layer looking for seeds and invertebrates. This is a difficult species to find in Northumberland. My best success in recent years has been in woodland close to the Anglers Arms on the Coquet or Bolam Lake. Wallington can be another site where this species has been seen coming to the feeders in the past.
The identification of these two species is difficult. Over the years, a number of photos have been brought to AWG meetings that have proved to be inconclusive.
Send all sightings to: Ian & Keith Davison, The Bungalow, Branton, Powburn, NE66 4LW Or by email to email@example.com
If you have wildlife queries you can email them to redsquirrel@alnwickwildlife group.co.uk – and they will be forwarded to an appropriate member who will try to answer them. No promises, mind – none of us are great experts!