Bird Life on the Tilehurst Commons and Parks
by Martin Sell
Thank goodness for water! It is only due to the fact that there are water catchment areas in the best parts of Tilehurst for natural history, that these have not been built on; together with the remnants of the brickworks, the whole area bounded by Arthur Newbery Park, McIlroy Park, Lousehill Copse and Blundell's Wood provide a vital 'green lung' for recreation, walking and observation of natural history right on residents' doorsteps. McIlroy Park, in particular, with its dense woodland and grassland slopes to the North East has a variety of birdlife, with the chance for the patient observer of seeing all three species of Woodpecker, as well as Nuthatch and Treecreeper. Thrushes and Blackbirds are residents, of course, as well as House Sparrows, Starlings and Dunnocks or Hedge Sparrows. Jays, with their harsh screeching, can sometimes be seen in the woodland, and Magpies and Crows are often observed around the parkland.
Wood Pigeons are now common, even in towns, and the smaller Collared Doves can be seen near houses. Tawny Owls may be resident in the woodland, preferring old hollow trees for nest sites, and a Kestrel may be seen hovering over the grassland in search of mice and Voles, while a Sparrowhawk can sometimes be observed, dashing into the woodland or hedgerow pursuing small birds.
In Spring and Summer, House Martins and Swifts can be seen soaring overhead, and the songs of Blackcap, Chiff-Chaff and Willow Warbler can be heard from the wilder parts of the woodland. Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits forage for insects in the woodland and scrub, and sometimes Coal and Marsh Tit can be seen. These birds roam in small parties in Autumn and Winter through the woods, sometimes visiting larger gardens. Robins and Chaffinches are also in evidence year-round, and sometimes a Pied Wagtail can be glimpsed by one of the small streams which have not been piped underground. Occasionally a flash of white and a brilliant crimson breast may betray a male Bullfinch, a shy and retiring bird, in the deepest parts of the woodland, but this is the reward of quiet and patient observation!
Those who venture out at dawn in late April or early May, before even the dog-walkers are up, will be amazed at what they can see and hear in terms of bird-song and activity. July and August are not so good - birds are moulting and will be in hiding, but there is a resurgence of activity in September and October, although only the Robins will be singing regularly. Thrushes and Blackbirds start their Spring songs in late February, if it is mild, and this will build up through the Spring and early Summer. Winter watching is not to be neglected, however, as activity can be observed in the woodland even in December, as birds must feed to survive, and even with the growth of garden bird food, the woodlands, especially if there is a mixture of tree species, will provide insects for small birds to eat, even during the harshest months of the year.