The garden birds of Charlecote

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Stroll around Charlecote's gardens at any time of year and you'll probably be distracted by the plants and flowers. But look more closely and there are many birds you'll have seen in your own garden, as well as some that you may not recognise.

Heralds of spring

One of the most eagerly awaited events of the year is the return from Africa of the swallows and house martins.

The first swallows (look for their long tails) usually arrive in early April. Then they can be seen hawking for insects across the park, over the house and along the river. Half-a-dozen or so pairs nest around the house and the outbuildings.

House martins are usually a week or so behind the swallows. But they quickly return to their mud nests, mostly on the south and east sides of the house.

Summer songbirds

Two other summer visitors to the garden are the chiffchaff, whose song is the characteristic ‘chiff-chaff’, and the blackcap. Its delightful warble finishes in a flourish of clear strong notes, earning it the name ‘northern nightingale’. Only the male has the eponymous black cap, the female has just a brown dusting on her head. She may look insignificant but can be quite fierce, chasing blackbirds away from food.

Birdsong project

The National Trust is participating in a 3-year project to explore the psychological impact of listening to birdsong and you can follow the project on Twitter @birdsongproject.

Garden favourites

There are also one or two pairs of dunnocks and song thrushes – both nationally declining species. Also known as the hedge sparrow, the dunnock is a rather insignificant brown bird that spends much of its time feeding on the ground along the edges of the flower borders.

As its name implies, the song thrush has an especially varied song, phrases of which it repeats two or three times. The thrushes are particularly fond of eating snails, which makes them very popular with our gardeners.

Otherwise, the gardens are the best place to find familiar garden birds such as wren, robin, blackbird, blue tit, great tit, chaffinch and greenfinch. These species also occur elsewhere in the park. Visitors sitting quietly near the croquet lawn have reported seeing a tiny goldcrest too.

Slightly less familiar are pied wagtails, a pair of which usually nest around the outbuildings and often catch insects on the lawns.

Also, look for the brightly coloured goldfinch with its tinkling song and flashes of red and yellow, making it easy to spot.

Hidden in the trees

Nuthatches often call from the trees by the restaurant and can sometimes be seen coming headfirst down a trunk as they search for food.

Occasionally the mouse-like treecreeper is glimpsed as well, flying to the base of a tree then climbing up in a spiral as it probes for insects. 

Long-tailed tits, coal tits and the tiny goldcrest - Britain’s smallest bird - are also seen from time to time, with the latter two preferring to feed in conifers.

Hope for the future

Until a few years ago, the gardens were also a favoured haunt of the endearing spotted flycatcher — another migrant that winters in Africa. Sadly it is in serious decline nationally and none have been recorded here since 2007. But we live in hope that one day they might return.