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Dawn chorus walk - Sunday 26th April 2009

A bright and early, well certainly early, start saw 14 willing participants waiting for the off outside the Community Centre, Blackbird announcing their early morning need to assert their territorial boundaries from the adjacent rooftops. A Tawny Owl had been calling earlier but had retired for the day as the group drifted off on a very tranquil, still awaiting first light, meander.

Wren and Robin were soon added, the former bursting with energy, the latter's languid singing seemingly almost too much of an effort to execute. An explosive 'cough' in the distance was a cock Pheasant announcing his presence.

Jackdaw warmed themselves about chimney pots and Rooks moved off from their rookeries, heading towards farmland south of the village, the dew ensuring a rich supply of invertebrates to breakfast upon.

Woodpigeon sang about the trees on Overton Hill, further Wren and Robin being picked up as we entered Station Road, a Blackbird seen to be exploring the skips at 'The stute'. A Song Thrush repeated itself incessantly behind The Surgery while agitated Blue Tit and Blackbird scolded us from gardens across the road.

Cuckoo in flight The filtration pools, though hidden from view, added honking Canada Geese, tooting Coots and a whinnying Little Grebe. Several of the former moved over / off from the roost as daylight was hinted at, though no sun was yet evident. House Sparrow were just starting to stir whereas Great Tit and Chaffinch were already well advanced in their vocal efforts, singing Dunnock and Goldcrest being hidden in the hedgerow. A Grey Wagtail was heard over the pool and Mallard began to head off towards Lower Ashe; only to be met by a Hippo. on arrival!!!

Bird of the day, though again heard only, was a Cuckoo (right, Cuculus canorus), this singing by The Test at Quidhampton and only the second recorded in the Parish this year. This bird is in rapid decline throughout Britain and their population may now be well under 10000 pairs, perhaps as few as 9600 being recorded as far back as 2000 since when there has been a continued slump in numbers — how many people do you know who have commented on not hearing a Cuckoo over the past few years?

A Brown Trout in The Test at Quidhampton Mill was not unexpected, unlike the black Rabbit that fed just inside the filtration pools 'compound'. The most northerly of these was partially viewable, the water level now having been dropped and just right for Little Ringed Plover to breed on, are they there, will they breed? Who's to know! Nearby the long since finished stalks of Straw Foxglove still towered over most other roadside plants, the only site known of for this plant in the Parish.

Male blackcapThe woodland about Flashetts held vocal Goldfinch, singing Blackbird and Robin, Mallard were on The Test and in the adjacent paddock. Lesser Celandine were all but over in their flowering while Ivy and Dog's Mercury still joined them in covering the woodland floor in their lush greenness. Moving out into the open, a Chiffchaff entered its repetitive song into the chorus, a Blackcap (right, Sylvia atricapilla) then regaling us with its more complex warbling in trees on the cutting. Here the fresh fronds of Hart's-tongue Fern almost glowed among the shaded vegetation. A quivering blur of a bird, a Wren in song flew past into the willow carr and Moorhen paddled about the stream, their almost choking alarm calls alerting us to their presence.

Reaching Little Meadow two things became obvious, a light but apparent frost on the grass and the sun heading ever upwards; a real mixture with the latter only countering the former some time later in the stroll. Cowslip were much in evidence here, their 'sunlight' colours splashed across the meadow, some even having 'escaped' and now growing among the gravel. Blackbird were singing high on trees, Woodpigeons became more and more mobile as the air warmed and an occasional duck wandered up into the air from the pools.

Moving yet still further west the gradual scaling of the hill to Court Drove saw the frost waning but snails in the ascendancy. Groups of these hung on to path side grasses, fencing and wire, the defrosting encouraging them to venture out for breakfast. The Great North Field was, as is often the case, empty; the crops there hiding whatever may have been present. Three large, woolly and long-tailed sheep and a horse resided in paddocks by Court Farm House, the latter the friendliest encounter of the morning.

Trout Greenfinch appeared on walking down Court Drove, a single conifer apex at the edge of Lordsfield Gardens holding in quick succession a male, then Blue Tit and Chaffinch. Further finch fed on the verge, moving off and showing their acutely forked tails. Woodpigeon were about school ground trees and bushes, the telegraph wires and posts and overhead, a bird that is now taken for granted in our gardens. The Old Rectory was topped by the resident 'Feral Pigeons' while Starling and Grey Heron flew over, the heron low along The Test where further Brown Trout (left, Salmo trutta), Mallard and Coot lurked.

Flower of Greater Periwinkle Both House Sparrow and Starling were more apparent in Bridge Street, nesting occupancy well under way in the dwellings towards the southern end. A Goldcrest again sang from ornamental conifers, Snowberry was continuing its efforts to blanket everything in the hedgerow and Greater Periwinkle (right, Vinca major) added an eye-catching purple dash of colour as their flowers faced the now palpable sun.

Heading back towards the Community Centre, and breakfast, the sun was now streaming down the High Street, its warmth increasing, much to the pleasure of those in attendance. Though warming, it could not contend with the warmth of the bacon butties, fresh toast, steaming tea and coffee awaiting the groups' arrival!

Breakfast and chatting completed, the important pasts of the 'event', some recently lured moths looked at, the Community Centre tidied, and off everybody headed, back to the normality of an early spring Sunday morning and their families, perhaps just stirring from the night!

Thanks are due to all the attendees, the breakfast wizard and, perhaps most of all considering the previous morning, the ones that sort out the weather for us.

I look forward to seeing you all at the next Dawn Chorus.

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Peter E. Hutchins

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