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Dawn chorus walk - 13th July 2008

Eight attended this most unusual of events - a Dawn Chorus Walk in mid-summer!

The early start apart the morning started brightly, literally, the sky being clear and blue, the sun struggling up over Polhampton and no wind to make the surprisingly cool conditions feel any fresher.

On leaving the Community Centre the watching of chimney-hugging Jackdaw, preening pigeon and high-flying Swift was rudely interrupted by a male Sparrowhawk that flashed past after coming in over the centres' garden. The Jackdaw were in particular more shocked about this early morning hunter and moved into the sky as one, being joined by vocal Greenfinch as they spiralled briefly above the rooftops..

The rears of premises in Winchester Street were closely observed, though the Black Redstart of the last Dawn Chorus Walk had now been replaced by a dozing Wood Pigeon!

Jackdaw and Rook continued to move in from the north as we headed up Station Road, many being in heavy moult and looking particularly tatty about the wings and tails; several of the former appearing to have no tail at all. Buddleia was now in flower by the road but it was too early to see if any butterflies, and too late for moths, would be attracted to the pendulous purple blooms. The more mature hedgerow here did however hold singing Chiffchaff and Dunnock and a family party of Long-tailed Tit that foraged towards the back of the vegetation.

A quick visit to the filtration pools, well somebody left the gate open, saw further misting over the water-cooled area. This helped to cloak our arrival and allowed us to see birds, and Rabbits, before they realised we were present. The most northerly pool looked just right for returning passage waders, but we had to make do with 14 Coot huddled together like softening Muscat grapes. The main pool held a raft of 20 Gadwall that took to the air on our approach, unlike the more confiding Coot, Moorhen and Mallard. Many of the latter, in eclipse plumage and not so aerially mobile, trotted away along the walkway separating the pool from the curve of The Test that once played host to a Dipper; another bird of note found on an OBS walk. A pair of Little Grebe played hide-and-seek amongst the layer of vegetation enveloping the southern part of the pool, bobbing up after diving like croutons in a cooling and thickening potage. A Grey Wagtail was heard in flight but did not, unfortunately, drop down to the pools. Three duck Tufted Duck remained at a distance on the bund divided pool where additional Little Grebe included a humbug-striped youngster and whinnying adults. A Reed Warbler actively collecting food about the bank scrub provided evidence of continued breeding at the site, as did a more showy family of Long-tailed Tit that hung from Alder and birch. An Eel, possibly one of many, hung in the less disturbed and shallow waters.

Back out on to Station Road and three elegant spikes of Straw Foxglove were only just remaining in flower near Quidhampton Mill, the only site in the Parish for this stylish digitalis. The Test was quiet here, the white flowers of Water Crowsfoot breaking up the blanket of 'weed' where little other water life was apparent.

Initially Flashetts was also hushed, the amount of birdsong already decreasing and the heavy vegetation helping to ensure that which was there remained unobtrusive. House Martin now appeared seemingly later risers than the Swift of over an hour previously, their buzzing calls alerting us to their presence overhead. Moorhen wandered softly amongst the waterside flora where nothing called, nothing moved. On approaching Kingsclere Road the sun was lighting and warming bramble scrub but this was still not enough to bring out more than a minimal showing of invertebrates, and therefore no insectivorous birds on their morning rounds.

Little Meadow was busy, the summer growth of plants making the site look buoyant and life-filled, unlike the adjacent Great North Field where the Rape crop looked more than a little neglected, that is by all except Wood Pigeon. These flushed for their feeding areas as we continued west towards Court Drove but earlier Skylark and Yellowhammer were not to be found. The field boundary held colourful poppy and gone over erodium, though umbellifers higher up provided more of interest. Here Harlequin Ladybird were found, accompanied by their 'lesser' cousin, the Two-spot, and many slugs and snails. A grass moth, Chrysoteuchia culmella, moved out of the crop and settled on less managed grasses by the track. A Linnet heard over the field was another traditional farmland bird, though not being quite so traditional nowadays. A cock Bullfinch sat atop a lifeless looking Elderberry, hooting forlornly until an immature dropped in beside him, the glorious pink of the formers' breast shining out in the increasing sunshine. A family of Swallow flew low over the paddocks by Court Drove, the differing tail streamer lengths of the male, female and juvenile birds being readily seen as they pursued aerial food items.

A Pied Wagtail joined Wood Pigeon on the school swimming pool fencing before heading back eastwards whilst a Coal Tit was vocal in conifers on the northern perimeter of the site. A party of four Cormorant moving low north-east over the school was unexpected, these being only irregular visitors to the Parish and very rarely in such numbers. Further Wood Pigeon were joined by Rook and Jackdaw in the shrubbery close to Lordsfield Gardens and the first, and only, Starling of the walk flew over. The previously seen Bullfinch flew over towards The Harrow Way, the sun again illuminating the cerise of the male.

The 'lawn' at the Recreation Centre provided breakfast for a handful of Pied Wagtail, eight Blackbird and several more Wood Pigeon, a family of the thrush being seen to adorn the top of the nearby Little Court.

Far too early, or late, for the churchyard Glow Worms and so it was south again towards the village centre on reaching Kingsclere Road. The hedgerow here provided further Harlequin Ladybird, as well as Two-spot and two Orange, with most of these being still in the larval stage; many making the most of the ample aphid supplies on hand, or in the case of one, on back!

Brown Trout hung below the bridge in the continuing clarity of The Test where an adult Little Grebe also spent much of its time underwater. The gang of local bread ducks, enjoying their Sunday morning relaxation, were soon encouraged into the water by others out and about early and joined the grebe and an extended family of Moorhen on the swiftly flowing watercourse.

Back to the Community Centre and 20+ Swift circled overhead as the village really began to waken, boughs being trimmed about the centre paths, dogs walked, papers bought, tea and coffee brewing and bacon butties being warmed, the latter all in anticipation of the return of the wanderers.

The walk was just one half of this 'social' event, the breakfasting afterwards taking as long, if not longer, and allowing those attending to talk of many things. The birds recently seen, the Dawn Chorus CD playing in the centre (it really is a Lesser Whitethroat and not a Wren), the cake bought in with its caramelised apple filling, the new source of village marmalade soon to be unveiled, and so on.

Thank you to those that attended the walk and to those who prepared the breakfast afterwards.

I look forward to seeing you all on the next Dawn Chorus Walk; well that is of course if you want one!

View the list of species here.

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Peter E. Hutchins

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