Gardening: Wild side with Professor Ian D. Rotherham

Tony Warburton and friend
Tony Warburton and friend
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Common buzzards are still circling and mewing high over Norton and their calls are now a regular occurrence. This is an especially exciting time with migrating birds arriving en masse from Europe, but of course with the added, now annual risk of bird flu as evidenced by the East Yorkshire outbreak. Bad weather and dense fog can force migrating birds down almost anywhere and so expect the unexpected! Local birds are moving around too, with three water rails for example at Bolehill in the Dearne Valley calling from different parts of the reedbeds. The call, if you have never heard it, is described as being like that of a strangled piglet, and my friend Paul Ardron does a remarkable impression – you just have to ask!

Bullfinches are being seen and heard across much of the region including my back garden. Listen for the soft zeeep call, and look for the flash of vivid white rump as they fly off. One excellent report was of 16 spotted together in Ewden Valley.

However, other, similarly sized flocks have been seen around the Bradfield area so perhaps these are going to a favoured moorland fringe roost site. A cracking record was of a great grey shrike seen beside Mortimer Road near Agden Wood. Orgreave Lakes had whooper swan and redshank, plus much more.

Tony Warburton sent in an amazing observation and picture, initially in response to my call for sightings of pheasants. The first message was ‘Hi Ian. We have been having male and female pheasants for a number of years and we have many other varieties of birds as well. Check out the goldfinch on my shoulder. I could not believe it was happening. Regards, Tony & Elaine.’ Amazed by the picture, I asked about the circumstances.

‘We have lots of different birds in our little garden, and the goldfinch looked as though it was injured. However, when I got close to it, the tiny bird flew on to my arm and landed. It then hopped up on to my shoulder, had a peck at my ear, and stayed on my shoulder for four or five minutes. It then flew onto the wall. I decided to give it some sunflower hearts, which it tucked into, and then it flew off into the woods. It really was fabulous.’

It is worth watching out for flocks of corvids (crows) both loafing and going to roost. Similarly, gulls are around with small flocks, particularly of black-headed gulls ‘loafing’ on greenspaces around the urban areas like Hillsborough Park and at Meadowhead Roundabout. Watch out too for the uncommon species and varieties such as the various ‘yellow-legged’ herring gulls. Water-bodies such as reservoirs are building up good numbers of roosting gulls in the late afternoons.

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