Bird-watching around Woolverstone -  David Harris (Chris Snuggs)

I found this most extraordinarily-impressive article in the WHS "Janus" of Autumn 1956. It was written by David G. Harris of unknown house who was apparently at WHS from 55 to 56. What is astonishing is the depth of knowledge of birds AND the fact that he (or was it someone else) had time and resources to record "eighty-two different species of birds" around the school. He may of course been referring to some higher, specialist source, but he does not quote any sources in his article - or did he do all this research on his OWN? We may never know.

I thought it might be interesting for Glen the Groundsman to compare with today's sightings. In any case, it is quite an unusual and amazing article that deserves a second life!

Two final surprising things!

  • David Harris refers to some birds whose names I have NEVER HEARD during my 76 years!! How shameful! But be honest - have YOU ever heard of a Red Knot?
  • Apparently, there was never an Ornithology Club at the school, which is surprising given that the setting and sheer number of birds would have made that an interesting activity - though of course cameras were thin on the ground and film expensive.

David Harris - MVI: In the past year eighty-two different species of birds have been recorded around the School, although in the spring the nests of only thirty species were found. The winter drove many flocks of waders to the estuary, where they often joined to form one large flock of over four thousand birds. Redshank, Dunlin and Knots would perform their aerial evolutions with amazing dexterity, twisting and turning high in the air or skimming low over the water and the ducks. Flocks of four hundred Sheld-duck, intermingling with two hundred Widgeon and several Tufted Duck, Scaup, Mallard and Pochard were quite a common sight, but usually wary of humans.

There were visits from rarer birds as well. Twelve Pintail could usually be recognized amongst the other ducks, and two Red-breasted Mergansers were seen near the Hard. A Bar-tailed Godwit refused to move until we were less than five yards away from it, and we had a similar experience with a Snipe.

A leak of fine ash from the Power Station was responsible for the death of many water birds. The first victim we found was a Red-necked Grebe. Then, as the winter wore on, more and more birds died because of the ash. Common Scoters, Peewits, common and Black-headed Gulls, and a mute swan were found along the water-line, all covered by the dangerous slime. Nothing could be done for them, and about a hundred birds must have died because of it.

The best "finds" in the spring were three Sheld-ducks' nests, the largest with a clutch of thirteen eggs. All the young hatched and were duly escorted to the river by the proud parents. In a hollow tree nearby a Redstart brought up four youngsters, and in the same clump of bracken as the Sheld-duck's nest a Whitethroat was brooding five eggs. A colony of Sandmartins that nested in the hole by the dining-halls were estimated to have about thirty nests in use, so these, naturally, were the species with most nests found. After them came Blackbirds with seventeen, Song Thrush with eleven, and Dunnocks with nine. A Cuckoo laid an egg in two of the Dunnocks' nests, and, contrary to popular belief, its eggs did not resemble the sky-blue Dunnocks at all. In fact, they were a buffish ground colour, heavily streaked with dark and light brown. Neither of them hatched, however, owing to the activities of Jackdaws.

Jackdaws were also responsible for the wrecking of a Long-tailed Tit's nest, two Yellowhammers', a Chaffinch's, and a Greenfinch's, and egg collectors caused more than sixteen birds to desert.

Amongst the commoner birds, House Sparrows, Starlings, Swallows and House Martins nested abundantly, and single nests of a Robin, Blue Tit, Green Woodpecker, Nuthatch, Goldfinch and Turtle dove were found.

One hundred and three birds were colour-ringed during the year, most of them as nestlings. The best catches were a swift which flew in through an open window during a maths lesson, a Sanderling, a Redstart, and a Sand-martin. Eleven of the birds were recaught, and many were seen again in various parts of the school. A young House Sparrow caught and ringed in the dining hall was recaught two days later in the changing rooms.

The birds I have mentioned here can only be regarded as a relatively small section of the population, and some excellent opportunities await the budding young ornithologist around Woolverstone.

D. Harris LVI