Trip reports

Coach trip to Cliffe Pools, 22nd April

Coach trip to Cliffe Pools, 22nd April
Whitethroat by John Bridges (rspb-images.com)

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Imagine a natural Eisteddfod. Or if such a thing is possible, a Swedish Eisteddfod: a smorgasbord of songsters vying for top spot. Such was Cliffe pools on Saturday, but we've no idea who won. The contest was not for our benefit. The prizes on offer were possession of a patch of territory and mating rights.

E for effort probably goes to the sedge warblers. Perched on top of small shrubs and churning out their lengthy, chuntering song - repetitive comb and pencil rhythms interspersed with snatches of borrowed song. The simplest song, and most evocative of the time of year, must be the cuckoo. A rare sight these days in England, but showing well at Cliffe.

Hardest to hear, especially for people with dodgy ears like mine, the grasshopper warblers whirring like well oiled fishing reels and absolutely impossible to see. Usually hard to see, but offering a rare glimpse on this day, a Cetti's warbler flew over us after issuing its machine gun staccato rat-tat-tat-tat.

Blackcaps sang like hyperactive blackbirds; a beautiful song to human ears. Not so pretty to us but no doubt irresistible to their intended listeners, the whitethroats' scratchy song is short and distinctive and usually delivered from a prominent perch. The lesser whitethroat, with a slightly sweeter song, is much less inclined to show itself.

The gull colony was extremely noisy. Black-headed gulls always sound to me like they are swearing at each other. Among these were quite a few Mediterranean gulls, distinguished by their larger size and whiter and cleaner appearance. Their call is far more refined; a rather posh sounding 'yeow'.

The heads of black-headed gulls are not actually black, but dark chocolate brown; the colour of Green and Blacks 70% cocoa chocolate (which I happen to be eating as I write). The Mediterranean gulls' heads are really are black and their beaks look really red by contrast.

Against the din of the gulls we listened for the star of the show. We caught a few snatches of nightingale song, but the birds were obviously not in the mood. For me, in any contest, the nightingale would be the undoubted winner. As I said, they are not singing for me, but it's none the less enjoyable for that. A brilliant day out.

Posted by Graeme Hutchinson