The first thing I heard as I entered Cranfood Woods this morning, was a loud drumming. I traced the sound to a male Great Spotted Woodpecker on a partial rotted tree. He was so intent on drumming and then pulling pieces of bark away that I was able to watch him for some time.
His behaviour was fascinating. He was drumming on one side of the tree then coming round to the rotten part, and pulling loads of rotten wood and bark away. I'm not sure if this bark is too soft for him to make a proper nest hole in, or if he was just searching for food, but either way he was definitely trying to impress the ladies with his prolonged and noisy drumming.
Everywhere birds were singing today. Robins, Great Tits and Blue Tits were not only calling but seemed to be pairing up and chasing each other around.
Greenfinches and Goldfinches were abundant and singing along the walk way from the Crane pub, and Wrens were popping up everywhere 'trilling' loudly.
A Blue Tit was investigating the nest box outside the Information Centre. In 2012 the nest box was used by Great Tits, but last year the Blue Tits got there first and used the box, and the Great Tits had to make do with a cleverly concealed trunk hole at the back of the tree. As I was leaving today a Great Tit was also investigating the nest box, so it will be interesting to see who uses it this year.
Green Woodpeckers and Jays were also very vocal but no matter how hard I tried, I could not get a photo of either of them today. Woodpigeons and Magpies were gathering twigs and taking them to the tops of trees, nesting season for them is early.
It's been an incredibly mild and wet winter, we've had no snow and only a handful of mornings where frost has been present. This is reflected in all the funky fungi that are still fruiting on various cut and fallen logs that are dotted around the woods.
Anyone who knows me will say my favourite bird of prey is the Kestrel, and they would be right, although in early Summer my favouritism tends to swing towards Peregrines.
Last year the Cranford Park Kestrels tricked me by choosing a different nest tree to the one they had seemed to favourite in the first place. Today I was sitting on a log by the first nest tree when I heard a Kestrel 'chirp' and glanced up to see three birds sitting in the branches very close to the old Woodpigeon nest, that I was so convinced they would use last year. Breeding activity starts in February for Kestrels, when they start to re-establish their territories, but this year could be different for our local birds. In June last year I found a dead male Kestrel in the orchard area. Today I saw two males and a female. So last years poor dead bird could have been our resident bird, and what I witnessed today was a couple of males trying to muscle in and take over the territory. Sadly no photos of the trio, to be honest I didn't know they were there until the female 'chirped'. And although they all flew off following each other, there didn't seem to be any aggressive behaviour. The only other conclusion I can think of is these are last years juveniles. Only time will tell.
Further in the woodland I flushed another bird of prey, this time a fine male Sparrowhawk. He flew up high and I only managed a distant photo.
The marmite Parakeets were as noisy as ever. Along with the Magpies and Woodpigeons, Parakeets nest quite early. I saw several birds already checking out potential nest holes, including the female below. Males have a small black bib and a rosey line around the neck. Some people call them Ring-necked Parakeets, others call them Rose-ringed Parakeets, I call them Marmite Parakeets because you either love them or you hate them !
Up by the Headland area I heard the Buzzards before I saw them. The distinctive 'mew' could be heard coming from the M4 direction and then three Buzzard came into view. I tried very hard to get all three birds in one photo but failed.
At the River Crane there was no sign of any of the Little Grebes. The water has dropped quite a lot so I'm wondering if they've gone further down river. The only birds of note I saw there was a singing Robin and a stunning solo Crow.
From the stone bridge towards the car park, daffodils are almost ready to bloom. Some of the daffs, planted by the benches in the Memorial Garden, have already opened.
The old Magnolia by the Haha wall has started to bud on its bottom branches. It lost a couple of its mature upper branches during the December storms.
Back in the woods (yes I do tend to go round the park more than once), one of the older trees is still smothered in Mistletoe. When I zoomed in on a bunch, I could see it was bursting with berries. My photos below don't do it justice.
I went back to my log by the Kestrel tree for a rest, and was joined by a female Great Spotted Woodpecker. She wasn't on a tree trunk though, she was performing acrobatics hanging off a twig and vigorously attacking some seed heads.
In amongst the Bluebell leaves (no buds on them yet but its looking to be a promising display according to the carpets of leaves that are around) there were several bunches of Snowdrops.
Further on in the woods, I found another marmite Parakeet popping out of a nest hole.
So a great morning out at Cranford Park and I would have been out for longer, the weather was that good today, but my shoulder is still fairly painful. If only fresh air was a cure.