Monday, 4 June 2007

Sherwood Forest Country Park NNR

Note the pale-dark-pale leading edge to the wing, classic Woodlark.

So we found a gem of a place, our only National Nature Reserve in the county - Sherwood Forest Country Park, a spacious mixture of ancient broadleaf woodland, conifer plantations and open heathland, all on the sort of sandy soil favoured by some pretty remarkable birds - not least of all Nightjar.

We began on Friday night with a guided walk led by one of the park rangers. It's a real treat when a chap like that shares specialist knowledge of his working patch - like showing us a Great Spotted Woodpecker nest that would be difficult to find during any regular visit. The walk started at 8:30. Above half a dozen Woodcock were roding throughout, meanwhile Tawny Owl chicks were branching although well hidden in the foliage, and from one of the plantations a Long-eared Owl chick begged and begged... and begged and begged for food with that distinctive 'squeaky gate' call.

Top of the bill was Nightjar and around 9:30 we edged onto the heathland where their chirring came to ear. We stopped overlooking a known territory and waited for action. That call was certainly loud enough but no bird yet visible, so the ranger used a nifty little trick. He slapped the back of his hand three times in quick succession which apparently imitates the wing-slapping part of the male's display flight. This obviously piqued the Nightjar and soon it was up against the skyline, the wafting butterfly flight and all. By now it was getting very dark and the walk headed back across the heath. Happily I spotted another Nightjar for the group, a swiftly flying female that had such strange head-long proportions in direct flight.
Some locals watching from a gate-post told us that there aren't as many Nightjar these days, which would be a shame if true.

Impressed by all of this the girlfriend and I couldn't stay away and made a visit the next day to retrace our steps and orientate a route for ourselves. The reserve is only 10 miles from home so we could make the place a regular spot.
In the daytime the birdlife was very different, a change from the nightshift species, some specialists too. Tree Pipit was very numerous, my first. Previously I'd always carefully listened to Meadow Pipits hoping to hear something different, but when a Tree Pipit does give you its splendiferous chorus you can't really mistake it for anything else. Cuckoos called throughout the day and we followed a male down a bridleway, jumping out of our skin when we flushed it from undergrowth beside the path only 5 yards ahead.
The other distinctly notable bird was the Woodlark, pictured above, again flushed from a path and very bold it was too, sitting for several minutes in the tree above us.

Again we heard the Nightjar's chirr though much earlier in the day, around 6:30 in the afternoon, still in fairly strong daylight at this time of the year. It was seemingly responding to our hand-slapping. Yes, it really works!
What else? Jay, Yellowhammer and Linnet, were nice birds.

The Common.


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