Sunday 13 May – Stoke Park and Eastville Park Leader: Richard Scantlebury

I joined BOC only very recently. As I live in the local area to Eastville Park and Stoke Park, I chose this walk to venture out (rather early for me on a Sunday morning!) for my very first BOC walk. I was taken aback when Richard explained we wouldn’t finish till one o’clock but had a laugh by the end because it actually finished mid-afternoon – the time had just flown by. Significant interest began right at the meeting point at Snuff Mills car park by the trees where Blue Tits and Great Tits were using the nesting boxes above. Blackcaps, Wrens, Robins and Chiffchaffs were singing as we walked towards the tunnel to cross the M32. Out of these, the Blackcaps are the birds I was not much familiar with so I decided that my challenge for the walk would be to focus on the Blackcap: to see one in real close-up and to be able to identify its song. As we arrived on the other side of the motorway at the bottom of Purdown, Greenfinches were singing; the elongated “eeeeee” feature of their song helpfully reminds us of their colour, “greeeeeeen”, and therefore their name, so makes them easy to remember. By the Duchess ponds, the Canada geese, a pair of Moorhens with their six fluffy chicks and an Orange-tip butterfly were enjoying the glorious warm, sunny weather as much as we were. The aerial interest included a Buzzard (likened by one of the group to aeroplanes circling the skies at Heathrow), a pair of Swifts and a Heron. In the area with the Dew Pond, Richard hoped to spot Whitethroats. I learnt that Blackcaps like to remain inside bushes whereas Whitethroats prefer open scrub and often perch and sing on the top of the tallest bush. And furthermore that the warblers, apart from the Blackcap and Chiffchaff, are summer visitors from the African continent – I too originally arrived here one summer as a visitor from the African continent!
Soon the group split into two which is when I learnt a key lesson that on a bird walk you can’t see it all. I thought I would press ahead with the faster birders but if only I had stayed with those ambling far behind us I could have had my first ever view in real of a Blackcap. The amblers enjoyed a close-up view as it proudly sang its heart out. Oh well … We ascended the steep slope rising up from the Dew Pond and paused at the top to take in the views of Bristol and beyond, stretching out for miles before us. Then it was on through the woods which was where the Blackcaps decided the time had come to test me out on identifying them. The foliage was too thick to see them but I think I passed the test by correctly identifying their song three times in a row so I was thoroughly pleased and it helped me get over the disappointment of the missed visual sighting earlier. Deeper into the woods, we took time patiently gazing up at the Nuthatch nest which Richard pointed out to us. Nuthatches often use woodpecker nesting holes, they reduce the size of the entrance hole with mud, he explained, and we were finally rewarded with a sighting. A Long-tailed Tit was perched on a post during our walk up to the mobile phone mast and more were flitting in the bushes. Further along, still in the scrubby approach to the mast, we heard a Whitethroat singing clearly from inside a large bush.
As we descended back down the slopes to cross the motorway, lots of Greenfinches were heard but the highlight was spotting a Bullfinch. On the last leg of our walk through Eastville Park we paused at the Tawny Owl boxes installed on the island in the lake, but there was no visible activity. I was pleased to spot my first Grey Wagtail on the muddy areas of the river bank and then the flash of brilliant blue of my first Kingfisher darting down the river.
Thanks to Richard for his knowledgeable and friendly leadership of this walk, introducing me to the fascinating and abundant wildlife of my local area and the joys of taking part in a BOC walk. Reethah Desai