Chris Farthing’s Woodberry bird highlights: May 2019

The month of May here is mostly about breeding. The last of our summer visitors are also still arriving, particularly at the start of the month, and this is a time when passage migrants are also possible.


Clearly the highlight of the month was a male cuckoo which flew low over the reservoir on the 24th giving its distinctive call. This species is definitely not an urban bird and the last sighting here was in 1988, but this bird was probably passing over and spotted the reed-bed (reed warblers are a favourite host species) which inspired it to drop down and call to see if there was a female around. This wasn’t the only new bird for 2019 seen during May, as the first whitethroat (picture 1 below) was seen on the 7th and the first jackdaw of the year flew over on the 26th.


Both the New River and reservoir pairs of mute swan (main picture above) hatched decent-sized broods of cygnets in mid-May and the cygnets had a good survival rate with a total of fourteen present at the end of the month. As usual, geese didn’t do too well with their breeding but we had plenty of success amongst the ducks, with two broods of pochard (2), officially a scarce breeding bird in the UK, most notable.

A male shoveler (3) was seen on the 5th, and there were a couple of visits from red-crested pochard at the start of the month. Shelduck were seen a few times including three birds on the 21st. Little egrets (4), which were absent through most of the winter, are now being seen regularly but usually only single birds. This spring has been very poor for wading birds with just two sightings of common sandpiper during May.


Our regular summer gulls, herring gull and lesser black-backed gull, were joined by occasional black-headed gulls during May and on one occasion each by a great black-backed gull (on the 2nd) and a yellow-legged gull (on the 20th). The low number of raptor sightings with kestrel, peregrine and sparrowhawk only being seen a maximum of three times each suggests that none of these species are breeding in the close vicinity this year.


Swifts are a major feature here during the summer but this year hasn’t been a good year for them. Maximum numbers seen at any one time during May were around one hundred, when counts of three hundred have been common this month in the last few years. The three regular hirundines, swallow, house martin and sand martin, were all seen occasionally but only in very low numbers.


Stock doves (5) have been very regular during May, with a typical sighting being a pair coming down to drink at the rocky area near the water outlet. In terms of breeding passerine birds, both sedge warbler and reed bunting have been seen frequently through May suggesting that they are breeding here this year, whilst both reed warbler and Cetti’s warbler are clearly breeding in good numbers. A single sighting of chiffchaff on the 8th suggests no local breeding. Birds which have certainly bred either on site or very close-by are great spotted woodpecker (6) which are very evident along the woodland trail, grey wagtail which can be seen around the inlet from the New River to the reservoir, and coal tit (8) which can be seen and heard along the woodland trail and around the café. The population of house sparrows on site has taken off this year following a very successful breeding cycle.


The total number of bird species seen in May was 70, which is consistent with the totals from May 2018 (68) and 2017 (72)


[Photos by Chris Farthing]















Posted on June 18th 2019