We are supported in our work by a whole host of wonderful volunteers. Each year Graham and Janet come along to monitor our bird life at the Park and produce a report. Here they share some information of what might be seen and where. May be you can come along and spot some of these lovely birds too?
Graham and Janet will be giving some talks and showing people where the herons nest through April on:
* Please note this is weather dependant! If you call us on 01789 470 277 on the day you wish to visit, we’ll be able to let you know if these are definately going ahead.
The Charismatic Birds
Charlecote’s most iconic bird is the Grey Heron. The adults return to their tree-top nests in February and remain in or around the heronry until June. During this time they can regularly be seen flying in with food or leaving to fish. In July the young disperse, followed by the adults in August and September. Providing there isn’t a prolonged freeze, however, a few birds will remain in the area throughout the winter. With 18-20 nesting pairs, Charlecote is the third largest heronry in Warwickshire.
Another bird that always excites those visitors lucky enough to see it is the Kingfisher. At least one pair usually nests somewhere in the riverbanks of the Avon or Dene, their presence most often revealed by a blue flash darting purposely just above the water. Search carefully and you might glimpse one perched on an overhanging branch, watching for fish. They may be present throughout the year, but are most often seen in spring and summer. Equally exciting is the Barn Owl, but this largely nocturnal bird is unlikely to be seen, except in winter when it sometimes emerges to hunt at dusk. These are the star birds, but there is a strong supporting cast, which is best considered by habitat.
This habitat holds three nationally declining species— Green Woodpecker, Mistle Thrush and Stock Dove. None is conspicuous, but there are usually two pairs of Green Woodpeckers—one in the West Park and one in the Front Park— and their laughing ’yaffle’ calls resound round the park in spring. Early spring is also the best time to see and hear the Mistle Thrushes. Bigger and greyer than the Song Thrush, there are normally two or three pairs and they frequently sing from the tops of the taller trees. With half-a-dozen or so pairs, Stock Doves are the most numerous of the parkland specialists, but their song is very quiet and they are easily overlooked. They are mostly seen in flight, when their small size and slight built distinguish them from the ubiquitous Woodpigeons.
The commonest parkland bird nowadays is the Jackdaw—a small crow with a sharp ‘jack’ call—though this distinction once belonged to the 150 pairs of Rooks that nested in the West Park rookery. Now there are barely 20 nests, but why there has been such a dramatic decline is unclear. A few pairs of Carrion Crows also nest and the larger Raven is a recent colonist, with a pair or two in the general area, while Jays and Magpies are present, though the former are not often seen. Other birds to look out for here are Buzzards, whose ‘mewing’ calls are regularly heard as they soar overhead on slightly raised wings, and Kestrels, a pair of which often hunt over the Front Park. Sparrowhawks, however, are only occasional visitors
and probably nest outside the park. In spring you might also hear the strident, ringing whistles of Nuthatches, the drumming of a Great Spotted Woodpecker or a singing Starling, while in winter flocks of Redwings and Fieldfares are conspicuous as they feed beneath the trees. Tawny Owls are also present, but you’re unlikely to come across one as they are strictly nocturnal. Little Owls, though, can sometimes be seen sitting out sunning themselves on a low branch or a log pile. The recently planted areas of scrub are proving attractive to small birds like Blackcaps.
Waterfowl are the most easily watched birds. Mallard are present throughout the year and a few pairs nest. Usually there are two, sometimes three, pairs of Mute Swans as well —one on the river and one on the lake – plus a few Canada Geese, though nesting appears to be sporadic. Two or three Greylag Geese are often present too, but they do not appear to have nested yet. One or two pairs of Coots and Moorhens regularly nest, either on the lake or riverbanks, and a pair of Tufted Ducks is often present, though nesting is rare. Cormorants are increasing along the Avon and they can often be seen fishing or perched in bankside trees. Winter brings a flock of 50 or more Wigeon to the river along with a few Teal and one or two Little Grebes, some of which sometimes linger into April, but do not stay to nest. Less often something rarer, such as Goosander or a Little Egret puts in an appearance.
Also associated with the rivers and lake, but less consistent in their appearances are two or three small birds. Standing on the terrace in summer, or walking along the riverside path in Place Meadow, you can sometimes hear the rhythmical songs of Reed and Sedge Warblers or catch sight of the black head of a Reed Bunting in the backside vegetation. Sometimes, especially around the weir, the stunning Grey Wagtail, with its grey back and sulphur-yellow belly, might be seen.
House and Garden
One of the most eagerly awaited events of the year is the return from Africa of the Swallows and House Martins. The first Swallows usually arrive in early April and thereafter they can be seen hawking for insects across the park, over the house and along the river. Half-a-dozen or so pairs nest around the house and the outbuildings. House Martins are usually a week or so behind the Swallows, but they quickly return to their mud nests, mostly on the south and east sides of the house. Numbers are normally similar to Swallows, but can vary quite considerably. Two other summer visitors to the garden are the Chiffchaff, whose song is ‘chiff, chaff’, and the Blackcap, whose delightful warble finishes in a flourish of clear strong notes. There are also one or two pairs of Dunnocks and Song Thrushes—both nationally declining species. Also known as the Hedge Sparrow, the Dunnock is a rather insignificant brown bird that spends much of its time feeding on the ground. As its name implies, the Song Thrush has an especially varied song, phrases of which it repeats two or three times.
Otherwise the gardens are the best place to find familiar garden birds such as Wren, Robin, Blackbird, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Chaffinch and Greenfinch, though these species also occur elsewhere in the park. Slightly less familiar are Pied Wagtails, a pair of which usually nest around the outbuildings and often catch insects on the lawns, and the brightly coloured Goldfinch, with its tinkling song. Nuthatches often call from the trees by the restaurant and can sometimes be seen coming headfirst down a trunk as they search for food. Occasionally the mouse-like Treecreeper is glimpsed as well, flying to the base of a tree then climbing in a spiral as it probes for insects. Long-tailed Tits, Coal Tits and the tiny Goldcrest—Britain’s smallest bird—are also seen from time-to-time—with the latter two preferring to feed in conifers. Until a few years ago, the gardens were also a favoured haunt of the endearing Spotted Flycatcher— another migrant that winters in Africa. Sadly it is in serious decline nationally and none have been recorded here since 2007, but we live in hope that one day they might return.
Graham & Janet, Park Volunteers & Guides