By Tom Forward
People and Wildlife Officer - Gatwick Greenspace Project
I confess to being more of a wildlife listener than a watcher – more often than not my ears guide me to seeing things. So I thought I would share our recent wildlife highlights in audio, after being inspired by the unique sound of an autumn breeze shaking the leaves in the canopy of an aspen tree the other day.
So what does migration sound like? Autumn is now fully underway and our summer visiting birds are departing or already well on their way, and for me nothing is more evocative than the insistent gentle ‘hoeets’ of chiffchaffs feeding up in the hedgerows and tree tops before jumping (not literally, I don’t think their legs would be up to it) the English channel. They also have the curious habit of breaking out into snippets of song, a promise of the sound of spring after a long winter. Here’s the call, with a bit of song and also the scolding of tits in the background (listen here).
While on birds, the roving tit flocks are starting to build now and are usually given away by the long-tailed tit ring leaders (listen here).
Grey squirrels get quite noisy too with their harsh, rasping, barking vocalisations, here (listen here) with the ticking call and liquid trickling song of a robin accompanying.
But perhaps my biggest tormentors have been the dark bush-crickets which hide up at about knee height in the bramble thickets along footpaths and hedgerows, issuing their regular chirrups, day and into the night (listen here). Do you ever get to see them? Hell no! They are masters of disguise, going quiet when you get close and then piping up again when you walk on by. It was only when I really set my mind (and ear) to it and got a bit lucky that I succeeded in actually seeing one. Looking at this picture you can see why!
The real excitement though for me this past month was the discovery of a common lizard on the small heathy patch that we manage at Tilgate Park with the help of our Youth Rangers. It is a hot spot for adders, grass snakes and slow worms, but in the five years we’ve been monitoring the site, never a lizard – until now! I was alerted to it by the rustle of it slithering away from its basking spot as I approached. Again without my ears, I would have probably missed it. We have been working hard to improve the habitat and the absence of the ‘not-so-common’ lizards has confounded me, so I confess to letting out a slightly over-enthusiastic cheer on finding it.
Other wildlife sounds of the moment have been the crackle of southern hawker dragonfly wings as they take off from bushy basking perch to snatch their prey, the busy hum of bees, wasps and hoverflies buzzing around ivy that is freshly in flower, the plaintive ‘deeooo’ flight call of siskins overhead, and the thuds of acorns and horse chestnuts as they hit the forest floor. But even my ears aren’t good enough to hear speckled wood butterflies in flight that still abound on sunny afternoons in woodland clearings. I wonder what they sound like? Guess I’ll need to re-incarnate as a diurnal bat to find out!
Once you start listening you can’t stop, and it’s a great way to tune in to the wildlife all around us. I wouldn’t give up my eyesight however, because last time I checked the tiny fluted bird’s nest fungi doesn’t make a sound, and I spotted a cluster of several hundred of these along a woodchip footpath the other day.
A final word, as I couldn’t get away without giving it another mention, is that after three years of searching, dormice have been discovered taking up residence in the boxes we put up for them at Gatwick, read Rachel’s blog here for the full fur account http://biodiversitygatwick.blogspot.co.uk/2015/09/dormouse-discoveries.html.
If you have a favourite wildlife sound, why not share it with us via our Facebook page.