Michael's latest report:

I was listening to Broadcasting House on Radio 4 this morning (14th April);  a listener had sent in a nice recording of a blackbird singing in his garden and wondered if anyone could identify it for him.  The presenter was unwilling to stick his neck out, having been proved wrong on the programme too many times before, but his co-presenter hazarded a guess at robin.  Later, suggestions from listeners were read out – someone agreed it was a robin, another that it was a thrush, while two more specifically pinned it down as a song thrush and a mistle thrush.  Fortunately, at the end of the programme the true identity of the songster was confirmed, but it saddened me to think that so many people can’t recognise one of our most beautiful songbirds, which is also one of our commonest species, to be found in millions of gardens up and down the land.  It was the Industrial Revolution that sowed the seeds for our divorce from the countryside, and it would appear that we now live in metropolitan bubbles that are sealed off from wildlife, but it doesn’t have to be that way, and, if you can admit to ignorance about birdsong, why not join the dawn chorus walk in Blean Woods in May (see details at the end of this article)?  Birds can give so much pleasure, and knowing which ones you are listening to will only heighten that enjoyment.


After high hopes during the mini-heatwave in the second half of February, spring has once again proved a disappointment so far, with Arctic winds delaying the blossoming of flowers, suppressing birdsong and reducing bird migration to a trickle.  Chiffchaffs were least affected, having arrived before the weather took a turn for the worse, but few willow warblers and blackcaps have made it so far.  Bird survey work, which can be so rewarding at this time of year, has been carried out in eerily quiet conditions, often with no song thrushes performing during a morning’s visit that may not even be punctuated by the drumming of great spotted woodpeckers.  As this is being written on 14th April, the forecast promises warmer weather as the new week progresses, so the wood may soon resound with joyous birdsong once more.  One bird that has been encountered in recent weeks is the mandarin duck, which I have written about before.  This exotic, psychedelically colourful bird which, as its name hints, does in fact originate from China, is rapidly becoming established in southern England;  unlike most ducks, it nests in tree holes, and so is happy to make its home in wooded areas.  Spring sightings of a pair flying in great circles over the wood have increased over the past couple of years, and I am confident that they attempted to breed last year, and are intending to nest on the reserve again this spring.  I am therefore looking forward to the day when I can obtain proof of breeding – discovering their nest-hole or seeing them with a brood of ducklings.


A single crossbill flew over one morning;  this is a species we have seen less of in recent years, perhaps partly due to the decline in number of coniferous woods locally as they have been felled at maturity and replaced with deciduous species.  The crossed mandibles of this species are designed extremely precisely for the task of extracting seeds from conifer cones, so their future is tied up very closely with the abundance of pines and spruces.


Blean Woods Walks

These walks start from the car park at the RSPB Reserve in Rough Common.  They must be booked by phoning 01227 464898 or emailing blean.woods@rspb.org.uk.  The cost is £3 for members and students, £5 for non-members, and children under 16 are free.


Sunday 5th May               Dawn chorus walk  5.15-7.15 am

Saturday 1st June and 8th June            Nightjar walks  8.15-10.00pm

  • Unbelievable about the blackbird. Don't think all the appalling noise in most areas of the UK helps. Means we have to try to mentally screen out all 'noise'. Also true that far too many people are only interested in human things and activities. Why? The world is so rich in interest, why do they impoverish their lives? Nature is about to some extent for everyone unless you live down a mine. Have found people looking at me strangely when I stop to look up and listen to a blackbird singing overhead. Often I think they really haven't noticed it, strange as that seems. People are very strange sometimes.