People and Wildlife Officer, Gatwick Greenspace Partnership
If someone said to you that Crawley was a winter wildlife watching hotspot, you might be forgiven for raising an eyebrow or two, but this cold spell we’ve been enduring has turned up plenty of quality action for those who choose to tune in.
To be fair, most of our wildlife has battened down the hatches for the cold months, but this time of year is perhaps the best opportunity for bird watching. With the trees bare you can get great views of hungry residents like sparrows, tits, chaffinches, starlings, blackbirds and robins clamouring at the garden bird feeders for the vital energy boosts we put out for them. Our winter visiting thrushes, the fieldfares and redwings, are straying into town for the bumper berry crops available here.
If you are lucky enough to have an apple tree or a cotoneaster shrub still bearing sugar-rich fruit in the garden, in your local car park or by the bus stop, then you may be in with the chance of witnessing a winter favourite, the exotic looking waxwing. They’ve been seen in this week in Bewbush and a little while back on Southgate Avenue. Broadfield has turned up a real rarity in the form of a long-staying rose-coloured starling, normally more at home in the warmer climes, eastwards of Greece and into temperate southern Asia. Beachy Road residents here are now familiar with small groups of camo-clad long-lensers lining the pavements, hoping for a piece of the rarity action. And if you cast your eyes up Central Sussex College tower in the town centre, you may catch sight of the fastest bird in the world, the peregrine falcon, roosting on a window ledge between bouts of terrorising the local feral pigeons.
Rose-coloured starling – Tom Forward
However, my favourite winter spectacles have to be the ‘birds of a feather flock together’ phenomena. There’s safety in numbers they say, and Manor Royal has a fine show to offer just as the sun goes down. To the north of the business district lies Rowley Wood which every winter evening plays host to a clattering and cawing cloud of a few thousand jackdaws and a smattering of crows and rooks coming into roost in the oaks. The industrial unit’s roof tops too are a favourite for big numbers of noisy, urbanised herring and lesser black-backed gulls. But perhaps best moment for me this winter was when I headed just out of town to Hedgecourt Lake, near Felbridge, where up to 10,000 starlings arrive at sunset to overnight in the reed bed, displaying breath-taking murmurations over the water before they do. If you are really lucky you may even catch a glimpse of the shy and elusive bittern there too!
So if you if the pressures of daily life mean that you rarely stop even for a few minutes to look, listen, take a deep breath and just enjoy the wild spectacles all around you, then perhaps now is the time. You don’t need to set aside precious time for it or get your hands on fancy kit, you can do it just as you are - at the bus stop, at the shops, walking the dog, on the school run, looking out the window while making a cuppa in your PJs, or on your commute to work (caution advised if driving – this is a bad habit!).
Staring Murmuration © Alan MacKenzie