Breckland Birder

Breckland Birder
Water Rail at Thompson Water, Norfolk Photo by Paul Newport

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Woodlarks and a brief introduction to forestry work

What a day of contrasts with the weather. The day dawned bright and sunny with a moderate frost, strong sunshine then remained for the morning.  By early afternoon cloud began to increase from the west and soon leaden skies remained with us.  By 1430, the first spots of rain were felt and shortly afterwards, persistant, heavy rain was the main weather feature.

Hilborough 0730-0945
This morning I headed off to Hilborough to once again watch Woodlarks.  The outgoing journey west along the B1108 road saw 3 Buzzards over Smugglers Road, Bodney, this was followed a short while later by a hunting Barn Owl at Hollow Heath, Hilborough.
I parked alongside the Coldharbour road and once ready walked through the tall compartments of commercial pine crops before reaching the first suitable Woodlark territory.  A short wait was then broken by the song of a male Woodlark over a clearing, a female bird then flew in over the trees to join him.
Singing Woodlark on dead wood within windrow near Hilborough 22/02/15.
I then made my way to another clearing where several Woodlarks occur and straight away I could hear a singing bird.
I wanted to position myself so that I could try and photograph Woodlarks, therefore, I walked along one of the rows of 4 year old Scots Pine, sat, and watched a long line of dead wood (windrow) where I know these birds like to rest and sing from.
Not too long I was watching at least 3 Woodlarks (2 singing males and a female) in front of and above me.  A prominent dead branch within the windrow was chosen as a song-post, although most of the singing was done on the wing above me.  This extremely beautiful song is certainly one of the most evocative sounds in Breckland and is one which I always look forward to hearing when males arrive back on territory around about mid February.
Woodlark (on windrow) at Hilborough 22/02/15
As well as choosing the same frequently used song post to deliver song from, the male Woodlarks more often sang on the wing high above me.  As previously seen here, at least 2 singing Woodlarks were seen and heard and on one occasion a brief chase ensued between both males.
It was while I was watching the Woodlarks that I met a very pleasant man called Kevin, this was prove for me to be a very rewarding and educational meeting.
Kevin is involved in forestry work and today he was 'brashing/beating up'.  This work sees Kevin walking the lines of 4 year old Scots Pines, he finds dead young trees and replaces them with Saplings.  The blocks of pines seen within the forest are known as compartments, Kevin tells me that each compartment is numbered for identification purposes.  Once a mature compartment of trees has been felled, the area is then cleared of unused stumps and branches to be laid out in long lines known as 'windrows', as the name suggests these long, sometimes tallish rows break down a strong wind and protects the young trees from damage.   I eventually left this site not only happy with my Woodlarks, but also for having gained much knowledge from Kevin regarding the various forestry terminology.

Little Cressingham
A big contrast in weather this afternoon with bright sunny skies replaced by total cloud cover followed by heavy, persistent rain from about 1430.
I parked in the village and then walked north along the Peddars Way for about 1.5 miles  before returning to walk back south to my starting point.
The highlight this afternoon was seeing 7 Buzzards along the route (3 were together).  As expected the area around North Bridge held most birds with about 20 Goldfinches and 2 Siskins in the Watton Brook valley where they visited the Alders there.  At least 4 Bullfinches were seen and heard, a regular species at this locality.
A small party of about 20 Fieldfare headed east, perhaps these were outgoing passage birds.

6 comments:

  1. Paul
    It was a real pleasure to meet & talk to you today, albeit you did make me jump a bit when i turned round and just saw this man sitting amongst the young trees, especially when i had already walked past you once without any knowledge of you being there.
    Hope to catch up with you again soon
    Kevin

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  2. Kevin
    I also consider it a great pleasure meeting you also Kevin. I thoroughly enjoyed our talk, which I found very educational and rewarding, our meeting clearly shows you are never too old to learn. Wasn't it an amazing turn in the weather today considering the brightness this morning.
    I agree Kevin, we must catch up soon.
    Paul

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  3. Paul, it is interesting to read the description of the forestry work...
    a small correction... what Kevin was doing was "beating up"...
    replacing the dead saplings with fresh in order to maintain a full canopy....
    thus encouraging strong, vertical growth.
    It is a tedious job as it requires full concentration...
    probably why Kevin walked straight past you once!!
    The brashing you refer to is the removal of lower branches on older trees...
    this creates knot free timber for part of the trunk...
    and, additionally causes the pruned ends, of the lower branches, to be incorporated into the heartwood....
    thus making nice tight knots in the final sawn timber....
    that are unlikely to fall out when dry.
    When I was in forestry we would hand-brash using billhooks as far as we could reach...
    then, on older stands, pruning saws on long handles...
    after that the professionals were called in to work the trunk higher...
    their tree-climbing skills were enviable.
    But they've been replaced now by "tree-monkeys"...
    a twin chainsaw motorised unit that spirals around the trunk...
    cutting the sidebranches as close as it can to the tree...
    but, never as close as a good human eye can!!
    But it is much cheaper... to rope up and climb a tree takes time...
    even using only tree irons and a belt....[not as safe]....
    isn't as quick as one of the machines...
    and it can all be controlled by one person at ground level.
    They were just coming into play when I left forestry...
    and the technology has moved far, far ahead since.

    Looks like you had a wonderful morning...
    lovely Woodlark shots... as was Saturday's Goshawk...
    "Sproing" is on the way... the birds are getting active...
    the flowers are budding strongly...
    and we had a flight of around 500 Cranes over on Sunday afternoon...
    largest we've ever had... but numbers are beginning to explode now.
    As ever,
    Tim

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    Replies
    1. One thing I should say... anything is safer than how our neighbour brashes his poplar stand... he gets into a fruit harvesting box... like the ones you can see on the side of the road over Spalding way [used for spuds there... but same box]...
      he has chainsaw, fuel, etc in there with him....
      someone else then lifts him up on a tractor fork lift and he starts cutting away the next branches to go.
      No safety gear, no hard hat, no goggles... his "pilot" cannot actually see him, just the underside of the box...
      but, thanks to his efforts...
      we always have a pair of Golden Orioles right on our doorstep...
      so we pray for his safety!!

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    2. Hi Tim
      Many thanks for correcting me, I had a feeling I got my forestry terminology wrong. Now that you mention it, I remember Kevin telling me this. By the way, what a lovely man Kevin is....very knowledgeable and a real gentleman...so interesting to listen to.
      Yes Tim, Spring is certainly on its way, we reached the dizzy heights of degrees today...the sun felt pleasantly warm in sheltered parts.
      500 Cranes, that is superb, the noise of the calls must be incredible, just the 2 or 3 which pass over here is great to hear.
      And your Golden Orioles, what a lucky man you are, I think they are all but lost now from our shores...a terrible loss which I rank alongside the loss of another former breeder, the Red-backed Shrike. I hope that both these species fortunes turn for the better at some point in the future.
      Not too long now Tim before the first summer migrants start to appear...a great time of year...but then I say that about any time of year.
      Great to get your post as always Tim.
      Chat soon.
      Paul

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    3. Sooner than you think, Paul...
      I am waiting for some 1400 JPG files to copy themselves from the SD card to "The Brain"... our 2 "Terror Bite" Network Drive...
      takes forever...
      I've been time-lapsing the roof going back on...
      one picture every 30 seconds....
      so...
      I thought I'd find a few Common Crane [Grus grus] recordings for you to annoy the family with...
      all from Xeno-Canto.... a site you probably know very well:

      http://www.xeno-canto.org/149363
      just a small flock coming into roost

      http://www.xeno-canto.org/75128
      these are the flight calls of a small group.

      http://www.xeno-canto.org/71065
      this is a medium sized flock passing on autumn migration.

      http://www.xeno-canto.org/83687
      a recording of some 3000 birds at a roost...
      we went to see the roost at l'Etang de la Mer Rouge in the Brenne...
      it numbered 3500 at the time.

      http://www.xeno-canto.org/193330
      this is approx 700 birds in flight from roost...
      close to the noise Pauline heard the other day...
      our flock must have been over 500 strong...
      and there will probably be more to come...
      they are still leaving Spain.

      http://www.xeno-canto.org/161779
      this is a family group leaving Lac du Der... the biggest winter roost in France
      From the last link, below, I grabbed this:
      "8/02/15 Ce matin, au lac du Der, près de 25 000 grues sont comptées"....
      they had over 85,000 just before Christmas

      Go to:
      http://champagne-ardenne.lpo.fr/grus-grus/index.htm#
      and click on Season 2014/2015....
      that will open in a new window.... and you click on a site to get a pop-up of the counts this season.
      And for day to day news:
      http://champagne-ardenne.lpo.fr/grues/point_sur_la_migration.htm

      Wind up the volume and...
      Have fun!

      Bird notes... was looking out of the kitchen window and saw a female Sparrowhawk flying straight towards me...
      across the meadow...
      she slung it sharp right about 50ft from me....
      and I had a perfect view of the underside...
      magnificent!
      She was shifting as only a Sparrowhawk can...
      always seems far faster than a Hobby.
      Don't need the camera for that...
      I'll remember it!!!

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