Dawn Chorus walk at Skipwith Common

10 brave souls met in the Common Road car park just South of Skipwith village at 4:30 AM on Sunday 5th May, at a time when most sensible club members are safely tucked up in bed, for a dawn chorus walk that’s becoming an annual event celebrating the arrival of spring in the York area.

The weather was fine but the one downside was the amount of standing water on the common. Wellington boots proved to be indispensable but the real problem was the associated and unexpected proliferation of mosquitoes which found their mark on most of us, one way or another.

We headed south before ultimately returning via Sands Lane and spent in all about 3 1/2 hours there, the birders’ shift coming to an end just as the dog walkers were beginning to appear, so we had the common pretty much to ourselves for most of that time.

Species list, seen and heard, numbered 48, with a final burst of sightings from the car park just before we left.

Highlights were:

  • Cuckoo heard calling from the direction of the village shortly after 4:30. Our walk was intermittently accompanied by the distant call of the same, or another bird, but we finished on a high note with a bird calling from the top of a high bare tree just south west of the village, which then flew off eastward, calling, giving most of us excellent views.
  • Three Tawny Owls were calling early on.
  • Garden warblers were both vocal and visible at various points of our walk and we counted 5 individuals.
  • A single Tree Pipit, on which we drew a blank last year, was heard singing, and eventually seen, near the Bomb Bay Loop, although it didn’t seem sufficiently motivated to launch itself into a song flight.
  • As we were about to leave, we scanned a scruffy looking field between the cars and the village and managed to add to our list Grey and Red-legged Partridge, Sparrowhawk, Mistle thrush, Linnet and one or two of the more common species.
  • A Green Woodpecker was heard as we returned up sands lane but confusingly a nearby Song Thrush was making a pretty good imitation of one too.
  • The common Sylvia warblers were widespread.

On the downside, we were disappointed to miss out on Woodcock but there were no hirundines until we finally saw the Swallow at the end of the walk.

Just one post script, or pre-script, rarely; I arrived at the common slightly earlier than most and heard, from 3:45 to 4:15, 6 roding Woodcock flights, though of course it’s impossible to tell how many birds were involved. The first “daytime” birds I heard from 3:45 onwards, were Swallows, apparently airborne and hunting what was clearly an abundance of insects in complete darkness.

Jonathan Begbie