The Jay: From secretive to show-off
Saturday morning was a damp one, with showers that made nature watching a lot less fun than the sunshine does… But, as it was the day for a wildlife walk around Highbury Park with local expert Paul Anthony, I was still excited as I donned my waterproof coat.
There was little to see as everything was keeping a low profile thanks to the poor weather. But what fascinated me most was the way Paul could simply listen, and from sound alone identify a myriad species of bird, all hiding away in the canopy. Dozens of Robins and Blackbirds, Great Tits and Blue Tits galore, a handful of Long-tailed Tits, and – saving the best for last – around six Chiffchaffs and at least twelve Blackcaps. It just goes to show how important it is to learn bird call. I must do my homework!
The sun made a welcome reappearance on Sunday. In my little front garden hover flies were enjoying the sun trap created there, sheltered from the cool breeze. Almost as soon as I got to the park I heard the Great Spotted Woodpecker’s drumming call echoing through the air. It led me on until I had located the tree it was in. I could tell from the sound, but could not see it. I peered upward patiently…there, a movement, right at the top. For another ten minutes I watched happily before it moved on to another tree some distance away. That was my cue.
Heading through the beech copse, I saw a curious thing. A Jay was on a branch, working its way along the length, wiping its beak back and forth. It did it for several minutes. Why? Well, main reasons are to clean, groom and sharpen their beaks (beaks are made from similar stuff to our nails, so this is their version of a manicure). But it can also act as a form of communication – they are showing off their weapon to potential mates and competitors.
Onwards to the Long Pool duck pond I went. The Coots are still sitting patiently on their ever-growing nest. It started as a tiny pile of twigs and has now spread into what must be the Coot equivalent of a palace. Not far behind it, sitting on a low branch hanging just above the water, was the Heron. It was crouched patiently, ready to strike at any second. As I watched – pow! Its beak flashed forward and it plunged headfirst into the water, totally submerging itself. When it pulled itself out, it had a beak-ful of silver that it swallowed once back on dry land.
A little further on, a single Swift flew above me, which was my first of the year. I love the way they flock together and cry joyously as they fly, it is a key sound of summer. So hopefully this solitary Swift will find its pals soon.