News from the Riverside – November 2019:
Cooler and shortening days are characteristic of November with fewer daylight hours to work on the riverside. There is, however, still much to see when out and about and it’s not all ducks and gulls.
At this time of year our feathered winter visitors are arriving from the frozen north and parties of piping redwings and scolding fieldfares can be heard passing overhead making a bee-line for some ancient untrimmed hedgerow laden with ‘hips and haws’. Far too many hedgerows, however, have already been trimmed with tractor-mounted flails and all vestiges of autumn fruits removed ahead of the arrival of the hungry visitors. The hedges may look spick and span in a neat and tidy countryside but they are useless as a resource for wildlife and a change in approach is required if the decline in bird numbers is to be reversed.
One of the joys of working near hedgerows which are still ‘intact’ is the number of birds that frequent them. The attraction for the birds is, of course, shelter, food and an ideal corridor to move through the landscape. So whilst robins and blackbirds may frequent a particular hedgerow with regularity, other species may just be passing by. Parties of black-striped, pink-tinged long-tailed tits provide an entertaining spectacle as they move up and down a thick hedge. The November weather may be gloomy but they bring a ray of sunshine with their antics as they flit and chase through the late autumn branches looking for small insects. It is also nice to report that this species is actually fairing well which adds to the enjoyment of watching them as they swing along the hedgerows.
At this time of year well away from any hedgerows, along the rush-margined ditches on the open meadows, common snipe will be dropping down as darkness falls. These birds spend time feeding along the watercourses and sit tight during the day unless disturbed by an inquisitive dog at which point they will rise explosively, zigzagging away at speed. Occasionally, the considerably less common Jack snipe may also be present along with water rail, a very secretive relative of the ubiquitous moorhen.
As dusk draws in ever earlier at this time of year there is a wonderful daily event to be seen across the river from Friars Meadow. When the dim afternoon light begins to slip away, flights of birds begin to roost in Ballingdon Grove. Ragged ribbons of them undulate across the meadows to the wood where they then alight in the tops of the increasingly leafless trees, adorning them with black ‘blossoms’. This is the coming of the ‘rookdaws’. Each time another ribbon arrives the early birds lift off from the trees and wheel and gyrate on wind-torn wings calling all the while; the rooks’ raucously clamorous ‘caws’ contrasting with the high pitched ‘chow chow’ of the jackdaws. Together they turn and lift and turn again in the fading light before finally settling into the woods for the night. Both species may be common but that does nothing to detract from the marvel of the spectacle and by darkness there may be around two thousand birds.
Adrian Walters (Clerk to the Trustees of the Sudbury Common Lands Charity and Ranger)