Sunday May 7th saw the first bird-walk for the Friends of Lawnswood Cemetery. It was a bird song identification walk led by Linda Jenkinson of Start Birding. A group of about 25-30, seven of whom were “Friends”, the others more experienced bird watchers, had assembled in the car park by 9.00 a.m where a red kite was flying overhead.
Linda took this mixed ability group through the varied habitat in the older part of the cemetery. The floor of the woodland glade was carpeted with wild flowers e.g. wild garlic, wood anemones and primroses. The Victorian cemetery, with its stunning memorials proved perfect perches for the show-off robins and wrens! The open lawns at the entrance and the Cross, in the Memorial gardens provided a different habitat in which we saw a pied wagtail, blackbirds and other ground feeding species. But it was the trees that provided the most sightings – a great spotted woodpecker on a dead branch, nuthatches and tits (blue and great) attracted to the many oaks, the conifers were host to a stock dove (heard but not seen) and a tiny goldcrest …a total of 23 species were seen/heard.
Different calls and songs were pointed out and tips given on how we can develop our own skills in their identification. We learned the difference between songs – for most species only used in the Spring/early Summer to attract a mate. We learned about the breathing system in birds which allows them to sing, without having to stop and gasp for breath! We understood why some birds – e.g. the bittern and the wren have such loud songs – especially for the size of the latter.
Not only did we learn about bird songs/calls, we also got to see the birds. If one can recognise birds by their songs, one can start to look for them – and thus see a far greater number of species. This didn’t apply particularly to the tit family as they were simply too busy feeding their young to sing. I had not realised that they had a very small time in which to fledge their chicks…whilst the tree leaves are just emerging. The chicks are fed on grubs, caterpillars etc. found on leaves. The grubs feeding on older leaves ingest tannins, produced when the leaves turn dark green, which is fatal to the chicks. In fact we learned that being a chick is pretty perilous – most don’t survive the first year many ending as food for larger birds.
I feel sure that everyone on the walk learned a great deal – the more experienced asked questions – and we learned facts about migration, that “early fledglings” could be the female being fed by the male (a courtship ritual in which the female pretends to be a chick, so she can assess how well he cares for her, before accepting him as her mate…clever bird!) and why some species were under threat – mainly due to their feeding or breeding grounds being decimated – intensively farmed or turned into housing, as well as direct threats encountered in their migratory patterns.
Linda was a very accessible and extremely knowledgeable guide and I’d encourage anyone to check out her website www.startbirding.co.uk for details of walks and the classes she runs.
Ann Lightman (Friends of Lawnswood Cemetery)