News archive

December 2020

Thursday, 10 December 2020

Lockdown Birds

Lockdown Birds

From the very first day of lockdown way back in March I was determined to hang on to as much of my own personal normality as possible. So in pursuit of this goal I decided to walk every day for at least two hours and to list every bird I saw. From this emerged my "Lockdown Bird List". The rules were simple. I had to walk from home and I had to see (or hear) the bird myself. If you imagine putting the point of a compass on Avondale Road, Shipley, and then drawing a circle with a radius of 3 miles, then you can visualise my patch. Northcliffe, Heaton Woods, Hirst Wood, St. Ives, Denso Marston, Baildon Moor, Tong Park Dam, Shipley Glen, Chellow Dene, the River Aire and the Leeds/Liverpool canal were all within my magic circle. I quickly discovered that there is a wealth of footpaths to explore so I can link the routes in a myriad different ways. I usually walk alone, but twice a week my husband comes too and some of the most memorable walks have been with Margot Rowan. As I write this, my pedometer tells me that I have walked for 244 consecutive days since lockdown started. More importantly, the bird list has exceeded my most optimistic predictions and currently stands at 79.

I have derived enormous pleasure from seeing birds I didn't know were in the area. Seeing the canalside sand martins, the little grebe in the Aire and the mandarins at Denso were all surprises. Likewise I am pretty sure that there were a pair of common sandpiper on the weir by the rowing club early in the spring - did anyone else see them? The peregrines made several appearances on the mill chimney in Saltaire and could be seen very well from our allotment. I too marvelled at the goshawk in Hirst Wood although knew it really shouldn't be there. But, conversely, I also immensely enjoyed seeing and hearing the birds we expect to be here - the warblers returning to Northcliffe, the waders on Baildon Moor and the Avondale swifts circling in the evenings. Hearing the cuckoo and seeing skylark and meadow pipit was such a joy, somehow made even more special by the fact that I walked there. I remember very clearly a walk with Margot, in stunning evening light, when we heard and then saw a reed bunting from a footpath just off Glen Road. Another memorable sight was a huge flock of swifts, martins and swallows circling above the Dowley Gap sewage treatment plant when I was walking by myself early in May.

Sometimes the sightings were fleeting - the little egret for example - seen just once. But as breeding and nesting began it also became increasingly possible to know what to expect where. Who knew there were so many kingfishers to wonder at! The goosander families have been a joy and now the males have returned from their moulting journey to the North Cape of Norway looking splendid in their new plumage.

If I had to choose a favourite moment, it would have to be just before sunrise when the jackdaws leave their roost and fly directly over Northcliffe meadow. There are surely at least five hundred of them, jack-jacking above my head. It's worth getting up early and climbing the 225 wooden steps. It's the kind of bird experience that really makes one's heart sing.

So did my plan work? I think it did. I feel pretty fit after all that walking and it has increased my knowledge of the area tenfold. More importantly I also feel much more connected with the local birdlife and feel blessed that I live in such a bird rich area.

I've just read in a Facebook post from Denso that a water rail was seen this morning so that's tomorrow's walk sorted!