The Nature Nook’s latest wildlife-spotting walk took Alex and I to the Clennon Valley Lakes, just south of Paignton Zoo, in search of ducks. Not mallards or tufted ducks, mind you – we’d already seen those. No, we were looking for a couple of slightly more uncommon species. We had received a tip-off that two dabbling ducks – the gadwall and the pintail – had been recently spotted at the lakes and we thought it would be relatively easy to add them to our list of birds.
The cirl bunting is a bird that I’ve never really given much thought to. For most of my life, this was quite understandable because I grew up in the northwest of England, where there aren’t any cirl buntings. I learned from my bird guide that it was a scarce and very localised breeding bird, found only in coastal regions of South Devon, so I never went out birdwatching hoping to see one.
If you happen to be in the ancient Caledonian pinewoods of the Scottish Highlands during April or May, you may hear a very unusual sound. It is often likened to a champagne cork popping and the liquid being poured, but in reverse – starting with the liquid gurgle and ending with the ‘pop’ (listen to it here). These bizarre noises are the spring display calls of the male capercaillie, one of our most impressive and dramatic birds.
It all began with a simple observation. I casually mentioned to Alex that while I had started seeing a lot more goldfinches over the past few years, it had been some time since I had seen a greenfinch. This made Alex realise that she couldn’t even remember the last time she had spotted one. And so, to break the tedium of lockdown and working from home, Alex and I made the decision to get out of the flat and spend more time in nature, especially now that the weather is warming. This new series of articles is going to document our various walks and record what we see.
Every year, male ruffs undergo one of the most spectacular avian transformations in the world. During winter, they are birds of subdued browns and greys, but as the breeding season approaches, they develop colourful summertime finery, becoming extravagantly plumaged wading birds. As you can see in the picture above, they develop ornamental erectile head plumes and broad, feathery neck ruffs, reminiscent of the exaggerated collars that became fashionable in European courts from the mid-16th to the mid-17th centuries.