During the early mornings of frost, wind, rain and sun, listening to their songs and following movements with my binoculars, I’ve found 34 bird species busy in the scrub.
Listening to birds in the scrub
Robins have consistently been the early songster. In the cold early months, sometimes, there’s just a soft sub-song from within a frozen bush, rising louder with the light brightening in the eastern sky. Always the song thrush takes over, loudly taking centre stage. Other residents join in. There’s the raucous call of crows, softer cooings of wood pigeon combine with the loudness of the tiny speckled brown wren.
Days pass and lengthen. Blackcaps, one of the first migrants to arrive from the south, joining the over-wintering few, closely followed by larger numbers of chiffchaff. For two springs, a single male willow warbler sang for a few days, then departed further north. In the first year, two lesser whitethroats vied singing, their calls almost like a yellow-hammer’s. They even stayed, attracted mates and bred. This year, only one arrived, sang for days but found no mate and left. Migration and wintering in Africa as the continent dries are dangerous.
Raising chicks in the scrub
As the season moves on, the songs get louder with eggs in nests followed by endless, almost careless, panic foraging for hungry chicks. Then there are the families with fledged chicks chasing parents through the bushes; gold and green finches, magpie, long-tailed tits and blackbirds.
Surprise visitors to the scrub: nuthatches - suddenly there, feeding on green hazel nuts in early July; a kingfisher flashes tropical colours through the bushes; a pair of early June linnets in early morning sunlight, the female warming and preening herself as the male sang sweetly from a blackthorn twig.
The year advances. Chiff-chaff move in loose flocks of 20-30 or more individuals rapidly foraging in a rush to put on weight for a massed nocturnal flight into Europe and beyond. Whitethroat families travel the hedge line, grabbing insects so accurately with precision beaks, in passing. There is an increasing urgency. Then, one morning, they are gone.
Autumn brings a feast of apples, berries, hips and haws
The scrub waits through the shortening days, the air cools, both fallen and twig-born apples tapped by blackbirds and slowly chewing wasps. Hips and haws shine in readiness amongst the amber leaves. Then, there they are cackling and gently calling fieldfares and redwings tumbling out of a grey sky to feast on the scrub bounty. Bushes and trees alive with soft Scandinavian voices and, thanks to the scrub, replenished movement.
As the year turns once again, what does the future hold? Hopefully, my surveys will continue and increase as, in August 2022, I am joined by others to start a passive dormouse survey for Peoples’ Trust for Endangered Species. In December we will be looking for harvest mouse nests so there are exciting times left in the bramble and thorns!
And for those interested in creating or maintaining scrub for the benefit of wildlife, have a look at this information on scrub from the RSPB.