A bouncing bird
A bouncing bird
The frequent downpours of August have tended to wipe out our memories of the hottest July on record with its parched fields and gardens and all that such conditions imply for the health and survival of our local wildlife. It was particularly hard on creatures which rely on earthworms for food, as their prey burrowed deeper into the baked earth. Badgers will have had a lean time, and hedgehogs, which feed on worms, slugs and snails, have also suffered. I was afraid that our garden hedgehogs had not bred successfully this year, but, perhaps because of people like us providing them with food and fresh water, they proved me wrong. One evening recently I was delighted to count six different individuals, including at least one juvenile, all during the course of an hour and a half. As they all begin the big feed, fattening up ready for hibernation, there has been a certain amount of aggression – head-butting and side-swiping, but the population is healthier than one might expect.
It was while I was watching for the hedgehogs that I caught sight of a much more unusual visitor to the garden. August 11th, 9.15 pm and the dusk closing in: suddenly I was aware of a pale shape moving through the shadows at the edge of the lawn – a shape that appeared to be bouncing. It disappeared into the flowerbed, but later reappeared at the far side of a rockery within the band of light thrown across the garden from the kitchen. Squinting through binoculars it was just possible to make out a pigeon-sized bird, the plumage on its back darkly blotched, head striped and – the clinch point – a long straight bill with which it was probing the soft compost. We’d just got it in focus when it flew off into the gathering dark. The fact that it was a night feeder and its general size and appearance make it pretty certain that our visitor was a woodcock – a bird usually only seen on its territorial flight over woods in early summer, or jinking away at great speed when disturbed, as it lies low among the leaf litter during the day. One book I consulted described woodcock “pattering” with their feet to disturb prey while feeding – that bouncing gait. What brought it to our suburban garden remains a mystery.
This is the time of maximum movement for birds. This year’s young disperse, summer migrants gather and depart and winter visitors begin to arrive. So – you never know what you might see. A friend who lives near Oakworth looked out of her kitchen window to see a red kite perched in her cherry tree; osprey are sometimes spotted around the Washburn reservoirs pausing to fish on their way south; and the beautiful winter thrushes, redwings and fieldfares, will be arriving in the next month or two.
Our WNS season is changing too. The winter programme of lectures, held on the second Tuesday in each month, begins on 12th September at Christ Church in Ilkley with an open evening – displays, short illustrated talks and a chance to catch up with all the news after the summer break.