All those wagging tails!
Often when it comes to writing articles for the parish news I have a bit of head scratch and wonder what I am going to write about, particularly so when it is a quiet month or I haven’t been out and about as much as I would have liked to. Other months it is exactly the opposite and I have too much I want to mention.
This month the article I wrote focussed on Wagtails, a species of bird that gets their name because of their continuously wagging tails. No-one really knows why this is but it has been suggested it may be because it helps to flush up prey.
What prompted the focus on these was seeing all three of our native breeding species in one day – something I don’t think I have done before! The three in question are the Pied, Grey and Yellow Wagtails. Here are some notes on all three:
Pied wagtails – this is small black and white (pied) bird, often noticed by their high-pitched "chissick" call when in flight’. I don’t see them so often in the village but do see them occasionally when passing local farmyards.
They feed predominantly on insects that they finds while searching lawns, fields and verges and build their nest in holes in walls, buildings, or old nests of larger birds but they will also use open-fronted nest boxes.
Pied wagtails are also well known for roosting in flocks in urban areas. There is safety in numbers and there have been roosts as large as 4000 individuals recorded. I once saw approx. 200 or so at a motorway service station – a welcome distraction for my travel-weary eyes.
There is another subspecies, the White Wagtail that is more common in Europe and has a grey back, rump and wings. These sometimes are passage migrants in the UK in spring and autumn
Grey wagtails – these have the longest tail of the wagtails and like the others its tail is wagged continually. They are actually more colourful than their name suggests having blue-grey upperparts contrast with black wings, bright yellow breast and belly, and yellow-green rump. These are the most common wagtails to see in the village with two-three pairs nesting near the river each year.
The Grey Wagtail's call is similar to the Pied Wagtails, but higher pitched and shorter, and sounds more like "chic".
Their diet comprises insects, such as midges and ants, which they find alongside rivers, etc. They will also take water snails and tadpoles from shallow water.
The nest is placed in a location close to a fast-flowing river, usually between hollows, or nooks and crannies among stones and rocks; sometimes, they can be found within manmade structures and, typically, nests are lined with moss and hair.
Yellow wagtails – unlike the previous two which are resident all year round these wagtails are summer visitors from Africa. They spend their summer in pastures, meadows, marshes, riversides and arable fields, and can often be found around cattle and horses, feeding on the invertebrates, such as flies and beetles, that the livestock disturb with their hooves.
I have only seen one of these previously in the village but after a tip-off I discovered 4-5 individuals on the river near High Boaty. I am not aware of They ar
e probably just migrants passing through to their usual breeding haunts.
The male Yellow Wagtail has bright yellow underparts and face in the summer, with olive-green upperparts and black-brown wings; females are duller with much browner backs and very pale buff-yellow below. Their call is often described as a sharp ‘Sweet’, often heard in flight.
The female builds the nest, which is either on the ground in a hollow or in thick grass. The nest is cup-shaped and made from grass, plant stems and roots, with a lining of hair or fur.
Other birding highlights this month include the first singing Whitethroats, Garden Warblers (shown right), and Willow Warblers. I also saw a Redstart on the edge of the village - a village first for me. It was probably only passing through but it would be brilliant to think these striking birds were nesting locally.
Our Swifts are back screeching over the village, and Sand Martins are back too along the river checking out next sites.
Finally, I have heard my first Cuckoo of the summer too, albeit distant. It reminded me of an amazing story I came across in the national press about one of these birds called Carlton II who was tracked completing a 3,000 mile journey from the Ivory Coast in Africa to Carlton marshes in Suffolk. It took him just over a week to complete the journey which is pretty good going!
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