Leading the 2017 Winter Birds walk in Hillhouse Wood – and meeting a real life ‘Wood Monster’

Over the years this particular walk has been one of the more variable in terms of the numbers who turn up – spending a few hours watching birds in a biting wind on a cold winter’s day is not always the most inviting prospect.  So I was glad to see that the forecast for this year’s walk was for relatively balmy spring-like weather.  My optimistic view was reinforced by the amount of noisily busy bird behaviour we had observed on the previous day’s work party.

But, of course, you can never be certain, and so it was with my normal ‘curiosity’ that I drove down the lane to the old church.  I was pleased to immediately see that Linda Firmin was sitting on the bench in the graveyard – at least that meant that anything that was about would be spotted.  I would be able to just focus on talking about what Linda had found – ‘play to your strengths’, I say!  While we were exchanging greetings we observed Great Tits in the graveyard, Blue Tits on top of the church, and a small flock of Goldfinches in the top of the big Oak.
There were quite a few people about, but how many were intending to join the walk?  Nearly all of them, it turned out.  In fact we had an excellent turn out of 21 people, with quite a few coming from outside of West Bergholt.  As we walked down the track towards the wood we quickly saw more tits and several Robins.  I was able to demonstrate how effective Great Tits can be at imitating the call of the Chaffinch – and also my skill at confusing the call of the Wood Pigeon with that of the Collared Dove!  One little finch flew over our heads with an energetic, bouncing flight.  Its call gave it away as a Linnet – a bird that is always ‘about’, but which I see infrequently.
Two gulls floated overhead, one of which was a Herring Gull. I used these as an opportunity to explain the four species of gull that tend to be seen around the village – and how there is no such thing as a ‘seagull’. Stopping at the usual place where the track turns sharp left, we surveyed the panorama across the valley.  Sharp eyes found a group of Roe deer on the far side, and while trying to see them I spotted a Buzzard gliding low over the fields.  As normal, I explained that this was a good place to see Yellowhammers, even though we have never managed to do so on any of our walks.
Heading towards the wood entrance we saw that the edge of the wood on the far side of the little field was alive with birds – Great Tits, Goldfinches, a Blackbird and a scarcer Mistle Thrush were identified.
In the wood itself, there was more bird activity than is sometimes the case in winter.  Blue tits and Great tits were constantly calling nearby.  At one point we had a good view of a soaring Sparrowhawk.  As usual, Linda heard a Nuthatch calling and spotted a Goldcrest in a large Oak, although with such a large group inevitably not everyone manages to benefit from such fleeting appearances.
On the way back to the old church we heard a Greater spotted woodpecker and a singing Skylark, and saw a large, tumbling group of Jackdaws.
I was pleased to see, at the end of the walk that nearly all the group had made it the entire way round.  This included a Mum with her two young daughters, one of whom had managed to acquire an impressive amount of mud on her face.  I asked if they liked the wood (they did), and were they not worried about being ‘got’ by the Wood Monster.  I was told in no uncertain terms that indeed she was not, as she was the Wood Monster. So watch out for her. should you go down to the woods today.

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