I was surprised to realise the other day that I’ve been writing this column since 2009; I was checking back to see which species I haven’t covered yet, or perhaps which ones needed a bit of an update to reflect changes which have occurred in the Clot. We have gained more species than we have lost, that’s for sure, with all the improvements which have taken place over the past few years.
Also around this time of year, I try to do something seasonal, but you’ll be relieved to read that I’m not doing that traditional Christmas bird – the Robin – yet again this time. However, there may be those of you who have taken a quick glance at my picture and thought “Oh, no, he’s going to bang on about Christmas Cards and Victorian Postmen again!” The bird in my picture might look like one, but it is definitely not a Robin.
Say hello to the Stonechat, a regular bird throughout the year in the Clot, but generally confined to sandy areas or places with low-growing shrubs, as well as open marshy areas. As you can see, the male has an orange-red breast similar to our old friend the Robin, but in contrast it has a blackish head and a natty white half collar, with brown and black patterned wings – during the winter it looks a little more washed-out, with less vivid colours. The female is a much paler bird, showing more brown around the head and a less vivid orange on the chest. They are very slightly smaller than a Robin, but you’d have to see them side-by-side to notice the difference.
Your usual sighting of a Stonechat will be at the top of a bush or an isolated clump of grass in barren areas, where it sits and flicks its wings and tail whilst uttering its distinctive call – a sound just like someone is banging two pebbles together, repeated three or four times. It also has a high squeaky song, much less musical than the Robin’s warble and less far-carrying. Quite often, these birds go around in pairs, so somewhere nearer the ground will be the female bird if you look carefully.
Distantly related to thrushes and flycatchers, the Stonechat feeds on insects, seeds and small worms. They are resident in the Clot, but their numbers in winter may be augmented by short distance migrants from further north. There is also a very similar bird called a Whinchat, which is a migrant bird and usually only seen in our area in transit during spring and autumn
The Spanish name is Tarabilla Comun, which means Common Chatterbox, but in Galicia, it is called Chasco Comun, which some sources (including the Spanish version of the RSPB) mistranslate as Common Disappointment!
So season’s greetings to all of you, and hopefully I will see you next year!
You can see more photographs of birds and other animals from our area by visiting www.marketheridge.smugmug.com
See you next mo