Local birding in the lockdown year – 2020

Like many others I have walked the local lanes and field paths more this year than ever before. And in so doing, have found an unexpected diversity of wildlife, especially insects and birds, but plants too.

I live in a hamlet surrounded by mixed arable farm land with a large orchard on one side and open fields with copses all around. Field paths are fairly well maintained but obstructed in places and frankly obliterated in others. Nevertheless, it’s been great to see folk of all ages, many strangers to me but probably from nearby villages extending their walks for variety, I guess, as their confidence rises with more time outdoors and for many, with improved fitness.

Since last autumn I have tried to keep a regular tally of birds on a standard walking route I’ve grown to love between my house and the local churchyard. I upload these to BirdTrack, the BTO app. that links with a nationwide bird counting effort involving 1000’s of volunteers. Looking back through these lists has been a fascinating process, both in seeing the variety of residents and travellers through the seasons, but also to note my progress as a novice in gradually learning birdsong and sharpening my identification skills. No doubt some of the more unusual sightings are birds that have been overlooked by me previously, but once seen, will make me all the more vigilant for a repeat performance. These lists were fortnightly at best to start but have upped to weekly or more often during the lockdown.

The spotting of migrants is a growing theme and one I’m slowly improving at. Knowledge of bird calls is really necessary here and helps with those many overflying silhouetted birds one sees in indifferent light (ie most days in autumn, quite a few in spring).

Churchyards are well known as hotspots for birds with their mature trees often including large dense yews and fruit bearing specimen trees of one sort or another. Gravestones form excellent temporary lookouts and the seclusion and freedom from mechanical and pedestrian traffic all help to favour these special places for birdlife.

I have really enjoyed these local sightings this year: rarities they aren’t, but some are first sightings of a bird for me, some are firsts for my local list. Others are familiar birds whose behaviour and movements begins to make a little more sense as they become part of the ever shifting scene. I’ve split them up by “month seen” in the main, with a “Miscellaneous “ group to finish up. I hope you enjoy this as much as I have enjoyed putting it together.

April to September 2020 Spotted flycatchers made the churchyard their own. Numerous sightings and a feeling they grew less concerned about being observed as the year went on. They also favoured a nearby group of trees including a lime tree with its insect hordes and I was lucky to follow a family group there in August.

May 2020 Learning the call and song of Goldcrest has enabled me to keep track of several key goldcrest sighting hot spots and make more regular sightings, most notably the adult and 2 fledglings seen in May. The nearby yews including those in the churchyard favour these rapidly moving shy birds, the smallest European species.

Juvenile goldcrest fed by adult May 2020
Adult goldcrest in fresh plumage October 2020

August 2020 An increase in activity in a nearby lime tree included several chiffchaffs, 4 spotted flycatchers including the 2 local juveniles (photographs above) and a singing willow warbler, a definite first for the patch. There appeared to be a passage of smaller birds heading south at this time. The willow warbler showed well and displayed clear identification marks to differentiate from the chiffchaffs.

Willow warbler August 2020

August 2020 (continued) Later in August I glanced out of an upstairs window to see the forked tail of a red kite wheeling over the house. A snatched video on the phone was the best I could do in the short time it stayed near. This, again, was a home ‘tick’!

Here are some red kites I saw at the feeding station near Rhayader last year:

October 2020 Redwing and fieldfare and mistle thrushes burst on the scene and all 3 species were seen and or heard on every outing for several weeks from then on. Fieldfares gradually moving in on the fallen apple crop into November, while redwing are more likely to be in the fruit and berry laden hedgerows, or flying quietly in groups of 20 or more, much more quietly than their garrulous fieldfare cousins. Mistle thrushes in 1s or 2s on treetops rattling away in alarm and apparently keeping watch. All three often accompanied by fractious blackbirds objecting loudly to their presence, many also migrants, no doubt.

Nov. 2020 A Grey wagtail was seen in among cattle in soft poached up pasture with some spilled silage to feed on. 20 plus pied wagtail and a handful of squeaky meadow pipits nearby. Perhaps a migrating wagtail flock with a grey wagtail as a hanger-on? Other grey wagtails were reported from unusual sites over these same few days. The meadow pipits are often to be seen through the autumn here, foraging in groups on the fields.

Grey wagtail, Haddon Hill, Somerset, 2020
Meadow pipit, Quantock Hills 2019

Miscellaneous :

I have included here notes of other local sightings and some other photographs taken locally this year. In fact it’s quite rare for me to carry a camera on my local walks, just some binoculars most days.

Stonechat (female) – this was at WWT Steart, but one female seen on hedge in a lane a mile or so away from my home, 10 miles inland in November 2020. First local sighting of stonechat.
Long tailed tit – increasingly large groups moving between groups of trees from mid-summer onwards and occasionally moving along newly cut hedge tops locally. Association of these groups with blue, great and coal tits and less often chiffchaff, treecreeper, goldcrest, especially juveniles in early autumn.