Girton Birdwatch - December 2006
Chris Starling mentioned in his November 'View from a Girton Garden' that sightings of large raptors around Girton are becoming increasingly common. He, himself, has seen a Common Buzzard flying towards Washpit Lane, and they can now be seen quite regularly over the American Cemetery. On Tuesday 24th October at 3.15 pm I was walking past the pavilion on the Recreation ground when my attention was drawn to a small group of five crows which were dive-bombing a Buzzard, a mere two-and-a-half horse-chestnut-trees-height, above the football pitch. It eventually beat a hasty retreat north-eastwards in an attempt to avoid its persecutors. Like Chris I'm delighted to see these birds around the village just as I am, perhaps more controversially, glad to see the now almost daily Sparrowhawk. Unlike the Sparrowhawk though, the Buzzard, primarily a carrion-eater, is no threat to our garden birds. A few months ago I flippantly suggested that it wouldn't be long before we saw Lammergeier, or Bearded vultures, over Girton. However, I was surprised when I awoke this morning to radio reports that Griffon vultures were being seen on a regular basis in British skies. Apparently a vulture named 'Bones', which escaped from a zoo in Staffordshire in August and hasn't yet been recaptured, has been a regular visitor to nearby moors. Moreover, others - which cannot be Bones - have been spotted in Cornwall, North Wales and, excitingly for us, Norfolk. These birds are also probably escapees from zoos and private collections, but the Staffordshire zoo authorities admitted that vultures could be heading this way from Spain, which isn't that far away - and there are colonies in the Cevennes, Southern France, which is even closer - and that owls are definitely on the move, with some Continental European species already moving into Britain. Those of you who watched the BBC documentary on the Eagle Owl last November will be aware that a pair of these huge birds of prey has been breeding on the Yorkshire Moors for the last 8 years and has had 23 chicks. This owl was hunted to extinction in this country hundreds of years ago and many people are ambivalent about its recent breeding success, fearing the impact it could have on native wildlife. Similarly, it is believed that Griffon vultures were once native to this country and a regular feature of Anglo-Saxon Britain (the last 'genuine' sighting was in 1927), while the Egyptian vulture, another Continental bird, was last recorded here in 1868. Admittedly, many references to Anglo-Saxon birds, are scriptural and taken from psalters and philosophies and may not be entirely reliable.
The day after submitting November's copy, and having drawn attention to 'Finch disease', I came across a dying Greenfinch in our garden. It sat with its head under its wing looking very sorry for itself and died while I was still attempting to steel myself to wringing its neck, something which I had never done before and to which I was not looking forward. I have not encountered any more deaths, so I suspect this bird had flown into a window or had succumbed to a more usual hazard, and not to disease.
On 30th October I heard my first Redwings and Fieldfares flying over the village - a week later than last year, although they had been arriving earlier in other parts of the County and, of course, I might have missed the first Girton arrivals. The very good acorn crop this year seems to have been reflected in the large number of Jays which are making their noisy presence felt throughout the village. Walking on the Rec. yesterday (14th Nov.) I noticed a Great Spotted Woodpecker feeding on the half-dead and rotting Ash trees near the Girton Wood. Green Woodpeckers are abundant in this vicinity, but this is the first time I've seen the Great Spotted there. Talking of Woodpeckers and 'immigrants', some authorities do not think it will be long before the Black Woodpecker reaches Southern England from the Continent. This is a spectacular bird, the size of a crow (45cms compared to the Great Spotted's 23cms). It has completely black plumage which only serves to add to its crow-like appearance. The male's crown is bright red all over, while the female is only red on the nape. Its bill is pale ivory. Some are nesting so close to France's Channel coast that the nearest pairs are a mere 100 miles from Kent and Sussex, leading many experts to express astonishment that these birds have not yet managed to reach Britain. It's just a matter of time!
I've had a report of a possible sighting of a Woodcock in a St. Margaret's Road garden. These have been seen over the village before (B.B.) but are quite unusual and often nocturnal or 'crepuscular' (operating at twilight), so seldom seen. If anybody else thinks they've seen this snipe-like bird recently I'd love to hear from them.
Ken Sheard, Ken.sheard2 at ntlworld.com