Big Garden Birdwatch 2018 – Result and pictures

We were delighted with the turnout for this community event in the nature reserve on Sunday 28th January.

Conservation Group members set up a stall in the Reserve, offering free refreshments, cake and biscuits, which seemed to be a good incentive for visitors to come and take part in observing the birds in the reserve at both the hides.  There was a steady stream of families, and children enjoyed making their own bird feeders using very sticky lard and peanut butter, mmmm…. (see images below).  There was some storytelling too.

Despite the blustery conditions, there was a good bird count, the highlight being a group of 11 Yellowhammers who swooped down to feed in front of the Woodland hide.

Full results for the RSPB one hour bird count are below and have been submitted to their database. But first, take a look at a few of the images from a super community morning gathering, click on any image to enlarge and scroll:



Final count for the Big Garden Birdwatch, Clara Vale Nature Reserve:

Tree sparrow – 15
Blue tit – 5
Great tit – 3
Long tailed tit – 1
Coal tit – 1
Robin – 3
Blackbird 2
Bullfinch – 2
Chaffinch – 6
Pheasant – 6
Mallard – 7
Nuthatch – 2
Magpie – 1
Moorhen – 3
Kingfisher – 1
Yellowhammer – 11
Wren – 1
Dunnock – 2

These are combined for the 2 hides with the maximum numbers taken  so we’ve not double counted.   Also 3 roe deer seen.

We’d also like to thank those people who donated a total of £16.60 to our funds.

RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch 2018

Join in with us at the Clara Vale Nature Reserve, as once again  we take part in the this national birdwatching event on Sunday 28th January 2018 between 10:30am and 12:00 noon.

The idea is to count the maximum number of each species seen in exactly one hour and submit the results to the RSPB. This helps them build a national picture of trends in the UK bird population. More information about what they do with the data here.

  • We will be offering free refreshments in the bird hides for those interested in taking part, come along and help us record the number of birds seen;
  • Learn more about the birds you see, with help from birdwatchers and guides;
  • Free children’s activities based on birds and pondlife in the Reserve.





Will the swifts return?

The swift boxes on the Village Hall have been opened up (we closed them to prevent sparrows taking them over) and are waiting for the first swifts to take up residence.  If you’ve passed the Village Hall you will have heard the calls of swifts and thought “They’re here!” Not yet. To encourage passing swifts to stay a while and view their possible new homes, we have rigged up a speaker that broadcasts swift calls throughout the day. So far not many swifts have passed by. This year swifts have trickled into the country from sub-Saharan Africa and so far not many reaching the north east. A couple were seen flying around the village recently but did not stay. So keep a watch on the boxes. We’ll be broadcasting the calls for a couple more weeks. Lets hope they find the new homes irresistible.

Did you know?….. a swift spends almost all its life in the air, only landing to breed. they sleep and even mate on the wing. A young swift, having left the nest, will stay in the air for up to three years before making a nest and breeding.

‘The Best Coffee Morning Ever!’

The coffee morning on Saturday 28th to coincide with the RSPB bird watch weekend was a resounding success.  Children from Clara Vale and Crawcrook made bird feeders to take home to attract birds to their own gardens.  Wildlife artist, Jonnie Foker demonstrated using pastels to draw bird shapes. Children and parents joined in to produce a colourful  frieze which will be hung in the hall for all to see.

Thanks to everyone who came along, to all the people who baked scrumptious cakes and especially to the team in the kitchen.  We raised around £150 towards bird feed for the birds in the nature reserve.

Thanks also to all the parents and children for taking part in activities and allowing these photos to be shared, we are so glad you enjoyed yourselves! One of the youngsters, Jake Raad, declared it ‘…the best coffee morning ever!’.

Click on any image for a larger version.

Swift nestboxes fitted to the Village Hall

As renovation works get under way at Clara Vale Village Hall, CVCG founding member Gordon Pollinger spotted men with a cherry picker machine used for accessing the roof and saw an opportunity to have some stock nestboxes for Swifts put up. The contractors were obliging and so we now have seven nextboxes fitted.

Sswift-silhouettewifts are fast, agile fliers with a similar silhouette to a Swallow or Housemartin, and although looking black against the sky, are actually dark brown in colour. They spent almost all of lives on the wing. Swifts generally visit the UK  from April to August.

The next boxes are specially designed with the entrance porthole at an underside angle, which will hopefully attract the Swifts to the sheltered position on the north side of the Hall under the eaves.  The narrow, angled nestbox entrance also has some deterrent effect on other small birds.


You can find out more about Swifts by visiting the RSPB’s Swift information page.

It’s nesting time…

Spring has arrived in the nature reserve and the first swallow in Clara Vale was spotted on Sunday 17th April. Warblers and chiffchaffs can be heard and will continue to arrive over the next few weeks from the Mediterranean and West Africa. It’s a very busy time for the resident and visiting bird population and we want to give them the best chance to raise their young.

Please can you keep dogs on leads and keep to paths in the reserve in the next few months to make sure that we give our visitors a good chance to breed successfully.

Posters are also on the entry gates.

Don’t forget the Woodland Hide

With the Nature Reserve and particularly the bird sanctuary becoming more popular, the Alex West hide in particular can be busy at times. The Committee are aware that sometimes visitors can be a little put off by large numbers of other people and equipment in there. A poster has been put up in the hide to encourage visitors to share the best positions at busy times.

But, don’t forget the Woodland hide. The outlook does not get as much light as the Alex West hide and therefore it is less popular with photographers, yet it offers close-up views of many birds found at the Alex West hide (Kingfishers apart).

Here’s a list of recent sightings from the Woodland hide, situated to the left of the playing field gate:

Blue tit
Great tit
Marsh tit
Long tailed tit
Female black cap
Greater spotted woodpecker
Stock dove
Wood pigeon
Yellow hammer
Tree sparrow
Grey squirrel

The (not so common) Common Crane

There was excitement amonst lucky villagers in early May who spotted a Common Crane flying over the village early one evening. It is very unusual to see one this far north and the first time one has been observed from the village.  Here’ s what the RSPB says:

‘The crane is a huge, graceful, mainly grey bird with long legs, a long neck and drooping, curved tail feathers. Small numbers pass through Britain in spring and autumn, and there is a tiny breeding population in eastern England. Numbers in Europe have declined over the last 300 years because of disturbance, shooting and drainage.’

Although we didn’t get any great photos, here’s a video to give you an idea what all the excitement was about:



Recent visitors to the bird hides in the Reserve might have been treated to a glimpse of this impressive predator, skimming and dodging obstacles at low level, ferociously chasing its prey at high speed.

The agile Sparrowhawk is a handsome bird with distinctive barring across its front and long, thin yellow legs. It is an expert in short fast low level flying over short distances and like other birds of prey will also soar looking for targets. It feeds on smaller birds, mice, frogs and insects.


With thanks to Bill Cowing for capturing these photos of both an adult Sparrowhawk (above  and juvenile Sparrowhawk (below) in the Reserve during March 2016.