Marlborough LitFest gets out into Savernake Forest to watch and listen for birds

Written by Tony Millett.

Stephen Moss in Savernake ForestStephen Moss in Savernake ForestOn a misty Sunday morning the LitFest went al fresco: the naturalist, television producer and author Stephen Moss took a group into Savernake Forest for an autumn 'look and listen' walk.  Adding local knowledge was Avebury's renowned ornithologist Robin Nelson.

Autumn, it was agreed, is not the best of times to watch and hear birdlife.  However Savernake produced some good sightings and good sounds.

There were several robins showing how they were still marking out their territory - as they always do.  And there were very close views of a fiesty nuthatch which responded with some anger when Stephen Moss played the nuthatch's alarm call from the ap on his mobile 'phone.

There were also thrushes and good views of a tree creeper.  The latter spotted by the young eyes of Stephen's ten year-old daughter Daisy.  

All in all there was more to listen to than to see.  And just as we were leaving the forest, the sun broke through!

Back at the Green Dragon in the High Street, Stephen Moss gave a talk on birdsong with plenty of examples.  He was co-author of the book of the BBC's popular mini-series - mini in duration though not in the number of episodes - of bird calls: Tweet of the Day.  In case you wondered why you had missed it, it comes on Radio 4 just before 6.00am.

He is about to publish a book on bird names and noted that it was amazing how many of bird names in English and in many languages were onomatopoeic reflections of their calls - like our cuckoo, chiff chaff and crow.

Was that a distant group of thrushes?Was that a distant group of thrushes?Stephen Moss is alarmed at the severe decline in hedgehogs (Daisy has never seen a live one) and house sparrows - among Britain's many 'at risk' species.  But he says there are reasons to be hopeful.

Many habitats are doing well for wildlife - he cites the revival of wetlands.  And he had nothing but praise for the Marlborough Downs Nature Improvement Area scheme - which had done so much to bring back the tree sparrow to Wiltshire as well as nurturing butterflies, raptors and other wildlife species.  

He hoped the farmers who had run the scheme over 25,000 acres of Wiltshire's land with some government seed money, would continue their good work now the funding had ceased.

Bird fact of the day (courtesy Stephen Moss): Wiltshire has more corn buntings than any other county in the UK.