Solo Guided Bird Walk

Land of Oak & Iron

Sunday 26th April 2020 was to be the second of this year’s guided bird walks from the Land of Oak & Iron Heritage Centre in Winlaton Mill. The walk was organised with local ornithologist Michael Turner, who has led several popular guided bird walks for Land of Oak & Iron over the past couple of years.

The planned walk was cancelled due to the Coronavirus situation and the need to practice social distancing.  However, living locally to the Heritage Centre, Michael decided to go ahead on his own with the ‘Early Morning Guided Bird Walk’ as scheduled between 7am and 9am and report back to give a flavour of spring in the Lower Derwent Valley… so bring your imagination and join Michael on his ‘Solo Guided Bird Walk’.

As I left the centre at 7am the morning was crisp with the sun just creeping over Millbank Wood bringing to life the colours in the trees and flowers, especially the red campion and cowslip. Although there was hardly any wind, blossom drifted down from the trees along the river path.

Already the birds were in fine voice, the songs of great, blue and long-tailed tit were dominated by a song thrush, its loud repeated phrases cascading from the top of a large silver birch. As I approached Butterfly Bridge I was stopped short by the nearby rattling alarm call of a mistle thrush. Continuing on it wasn’t long before I heard the distinctive call of the chiffchaff closely followed by the melodious song of the blackcap and soft descending whistle of the willow warbler. All three warblers are summer visitors, the blackcap from central Europe the chiffchaff and willow warbler from Africa.

From Butterfly Bridge I had great views of grey wagtail and dipper but sadly no kingfisher. On towards the viaduct I could hear the distant drumming of a great spotted woodpecker and as I reached the Derwent Walk straight ahead on the bankside a roe deer buck in full antler gracefully made its way into the woodland edge.

Coming onto the viaduct a small flock of twittering goldfinch flew over. I had stopped to watch them but was distracted by a rustling in some nearby ivy. Two wrens were making a bit of a fuss and on closer inspection I could see why, a perfectly formed dome of a nest had been built with the entrance hole just off to the side. This structure gives the wren its Latin name Troglodytes troglodytes meaning ‘the cave dweller’.

I left the viaduct aLand of Oak & Ironnd headed toward the lake following the longer riverside path. Opposite, in Thornley Woods I could hear the comic ‘yaffle’ of a green woodpecker closely followed by the hacking call and noisy wing flutter of a pheasant.

As I approached the large stone bridge over the river I had fantastic views of one of my favourite birds the bullfinch. It was a pair and both were feeding on the seeds of the dandelion clock. The male resplendent in bright red and grey and the female resembling a washed out version of the male but just as gorgeous. Both have a white rump which is very distinctive in flight.

At the lakeside a grey heron flew in and was feeding along the reed edge where, for the first time this year a sedge warbler was clinging onto a Phragmites reed stem, belting out its rapid cascade of trills and whistles. Also among the reeds were a pair of reed bunting quite undisturbed by the male sparrowhawk flying over. Ignoring all this completely and sitting quite serenely on a huge nest was the female mute swan, the pen, (the male is the cob). She has been sitting for a while now so hopefully it won’t be long before new life is brought onto the lake.

My morning was complete and I returned to the Heritage Centre, sadly no coffee … this time.

I hope you have enjoyed my ‘Solo Guided Bird Walk’ and hopefully it won’t be too long before we can all get out and enjoy it together.

Best wishes and stay well, Michael Turner.


If you would like to join one of Michael’s guided bird walks, please check our events pages when the Heritage Centre re-opens – in the meantime, learn how to identify birds by sight and sound with the RSPB.

Thanks to Bill Cowings for his photographs.