Places to see birds

Christmas Common, Watlington Hill, Chilterns

Christmas Common, Watlington Hill, Chilterns
Red Kite by Chris Gomersall

Site Notes Fred Twilley 2001

Christmas Common is situated in the Chilterns in an designated area of outstanding natural beauty. This reserve is one of the many National Trust reserves and is mainly chalk downland. The 96 acre site is situated on the west facing scape with outstanding views of the rolling landscape. It is thought that the downlands were once covered with beach woods which were cleared by stone age man when they began farming, and have been grazed to varying degrees ever since, either by domestic animals like sleep or by hundreds of wild rabbits which still carry out the important work of keeping the vegetation cropped.

Rabbits are an important part of the food chain in the Chilterns, particularly for two of the most spectacular birds of the area, the red kite and the buzzard. The red kite was once a common bird all over the British Isles, including scavenging the streets of London. However persecution wiped them out in all but a handful in Wales. Some eleven years ago it was decided to reintroduce red kites from Spain into the Chilterns. So successful has it been that that kites are now a common site in the skies over the hills. The buzzard is not so common but there are a number of pairs in the Chilterns and they are often seen guiding in the thermals with their broad round wings. They have not been re-introduced but are increasing again after the devastating effects of myxomatosis on the rabbit population

Kestrel and sparrowhawk are two other birds of prey that commonly observed in the area. Due mainly to lack of water on the chalk downlands birds are not found in large numbers. However songs of skylarks are common along with meadow pipit searching for insects while green woodpeckers feed on ants in the grass. You may be lucky and find wheatear or whinchat on migration in spring or autumn. Although large areas are chalk downland, there are pockets of scrub and woodland. Some is beech but a great deal is the new yew wood said to date back to the Napoleonic Wars, These areas have good populations of woodland birds including coal tit, marsh tit, goldcrest, tree creeper, nuthatch, greater spotted woodpecker, mistle thrush and song thrush. Warblers including chiffchaff, willow warbler, blackcap and whitethroat, whilst in winter flocks of fieldfare and redwings forage the trees

There is plenty to look to for in the Chilterns but you always find your eyes wandering skywards looking for the spectacular red kites.

Copyright Fred Twilley 2002