Four days ago now (sorry!) I wrote about the first of the two firsts I'd seen this week... a toadflax brocade moth in our moth trap on 10th August. Not only a first (EVER) for me - but also a first for SU87 (our 10KM ordnance survey square).
Now to reveal the second first - a bird remember?
In Swinley Forest. (My most favourite local spot - about 3 miles from our house).
Not a nightjar. (Seen them quite a bit locally - they are my second favourite bird after all).
Not a firecrest. (Seen them up Mount Ainos in Kephalonia).
Not a Dartford Warbler. (Still haven't seen one - although I KNOW they do live in the local lowland heaths around Swinley Forest and I'm sure I'll see one eventually).
Not even a woodlark (ditto above).
All the above are real local specialists in Swinley Forest - which is a real stronghold for them in this county. But I've left one bird out.
Got it yet?
Now be honest. Did you guess that? Probably not, I'd say.
Ben, my eldest and I were exploring the 2600 acres of forest on our mountain bikes when we found ourselves at two of our favourite dragonfly ponds. We stopped, and dismounted from our bikes, as I'd heard a bird call in the canopy that I didn't think I'd heard (EVER) before. (I'm pretty good identifying birds from their calls and couldn't remember this one).
Suddenly not one but two of these birds flew down to the pond, disappeared for a bit then strongly flew back up to the canopy showing me their orange tails (if nothing else really - just LBJs or little brown jobs, but with orange tails). No time for any photos I'm afraid - not this time.
I immediately thought redstart (female or young) but as I'd never seen one before, I couldn't be 100% sure.
But I confirmed it when I got home.
Actually... on that subject (bird identification) - here's an ordered checklist tip for anyone reading this.
If you have trouble identifying birds (or any organism for that matter) - the below may help.
1) WHAT TIME OF YEAR AND WHAT TIME OF DAY IS IT? SUMMER in the bird's case. (Perfect for our summer visiting redstart). And middle of the day.
2) WHAT HABITAT ARE YOU IN? Large mixed forest and heath. AND the county stronghold for redstarts.
3) WHAT DOES THE ORGANISM SOUND LIKE (IF IT'S MAKING A NOISE). That call I'd not heard before.
4) WHAT IS IT DOING? HOW IS IT DOING IT? Incessantly calling then flying down to the ground (from the canopy) to feed. VERY redstart behaviour.
Then and ONLY then... move onto 5 below...
5) WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE? ANY OBVIOUS FEATURES OR COLOURS? Orange tail. That's all I saw really.
Never... repeat NEVER... try to identify anything that you see on its own (that is to say without any other organisms around for comparative purposes by size - a mistake that loads make).
The above order for identifying anything you're not sure of (or perhaps have not seen before) is SO important - almost all misidentifications that I've seen people (including friends and even family) make are made because people go to point 5) first and often talk about size too. Schoolboy error.
Anyway... I'd not seen a redstart before last week. Ben and I have been back twice now (once with my wife too) and we've since seen two more of these lovely but quite secretive birds. And now that I know what they sound like, and where they are... I'm sure I'll see many more in the summers ahead (if we stick around in this area... which we really aren't sure we will).
Whilst I'm here.
This is probably just me... and today I've probably picked trees and views to photograph with confirmation bias....
But aren't the trees dropping their leaves early this year?
I mean it's barely mid August and look at the below (all photos taken this morning on my power walk around east Berks).
Surely this is too early to start sweeping up leaves?
Just me then? Or have YOU noticed this too, this year?