Birding the Leicestershire Round
Section 9: Barwell to Shackerstone Wednesday 27th April 2022
Participants: Jim, Sue, Andrew, Chris and Kathy
For this penultimate leg of the Round, we were delighted to have Andrew on board again and to be joined by Sue’s Cousin Chris and his wife Kathy. Despite reiterating the warning about our rate of progress being little more than one and a half miles per hour, they were undeterred and keen to learn more about the birds we might see along the way.
Suitably kitted out with binoculars and an extra layer of clothing against a chilly wind and overcast skies, we set off from Barwell church and immediately caught site of a Jackdaw, nesting in the apex of one of the upper lancet windows of the church tower. It was well-positioned with a fine views, marred only by the presence of a surgical mask, which the bird had incorporated into its nest – a poignant reminder indeed of the ongoing pandemic.
We wove our way through the industrial estate to reach the start of the footpath to Sutton Wharf. At the very beginning of the path, barely out of the urban grip of Barwell, was a tiny patch of scrubby habitat which also crossed a small stream. The diversity and concentration of birds in this tiny area was impressive, with Song Thrush, Chiffchaff, Greenfinch, Wren, Blackbird, Blackcap, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Magpie, House Sparrow, Woodpigeon, Robin, Collared Dove and Lesser Whitethroat all competing for air space to broadcast their best vocalisations. This was a good start, albeit a confusing one for our friends, who were desperately trying to dissect each song from the aural soup.
A conversation then ensued about why the females of each species were generally (but not always) dowdier than the males, amongst many other conundrums, as we proceeded across fields of wheat to Odd House Farm. Several displaying Skylark and a flock of nine Linnet were seen here, also Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Long-tailed Tit, Pied Wagtail, Stock Dove and Mallard. A steaming pile of manure however, ensured that we didn’t linger too long in this vicinity and we were soon on our way again, this time over a rough field covered with tall, desiccated grasses from the previous season and dotted with newly planted saplings. A brief shaft of sunshine warmed us for a few seconds before disappearing behind thick cloud and remaining elusive for the rest of the day. We scanned the hedgerow and stream bordering the field, looking for the Chiffchaff uttering its contact calls, when Kathy spotted something blue in the trees. Was this the Kingfisher that we had searched so hard for thus far? Alas on closer inspection, it turned out to be nothing more than a blue dog poo bag which had been lobbed into the tree and become entangled in the branches! Well, it was a good try!
Our path continued towards Stapleton Lane, where arable land gave way once more to pasture. Andrew spotted a low flying Heron, and Buzzard was also added to our list for the day near to Dadlington. At Poplars Farm, we met the Ashby Canal and followed the towpath for the pleasant walk to Sutton Wharf. Moorhen, Mallard and Mute Swan were the order of the day as we paused for a picnic lunch by the bridge, mercifully sheltered from the biting wind. We watched the narrow boats chug lazily by and listened to the Blackcaps and Dunnocks in the hedgerow before continuing to Ambion Wood. A large part of this had been heavily coppiced and re-planted with a mix of native trees, so will be an area to watch for birds as it evolves in future.
The route continued past the Battlefield Centre, close to where Richard III was defeated by Henry VII, then swung north-east to the village of Sutton Cheney. Willow Warbler and Whitethroat serenaded us along the way before entering the fascinating churchyard of St James, where it is believed that Richard III celebrated Mass the night before the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. The adjacent row of 17th century Alms Houses with end wall comprising one giant dovecote was equally impressive, although the doves had since long vacated their homes.
Passing the ‘Hercules Revived’ pub, complete with nesting House Sparrows, we continued towards Market Bosworth, walking alongside Spring Wood and then by a small pond with Coot, Moorhen, two pairs of Mallard and seven newly hatched chicks which kept us entertained as they scooted at speed across the surface of the water. By this time, Kathy and Andrew were honing their newly acquired bird watching skills and there was serious talk of getting some binoculars of their own. It could be an expensive Christmas for cousin Chris this year, but we did warn them that birding was infectious!
As we approached Market Bosworth, a Rookery came into view, then as we arrived at the Park lake, we paused to admire two male Mandarin Duck in immaculate plumage, amongst the other inhabitants of the water, including a Canada Goose with five chicks, Greylag Goose and Mallard.
The route from Market Bosworth to Carlton took us alongside a disused but well-maintained golf course, where we spotted a Hare bounding across one of the fields. Another Rookery, several Canada Geese, one Greylag Goose and a small flock of Long-tailed Tits later, we arrived in Carlton where we stopped to chat with the owner of the house which was originally a Grammar school for the poor children of the Parish in 1847. It closed in 1968, but there is still a stone plaque above the front entrance, complete with several spelling mistakes in the inscription. The owner postulated that the person who made the plaque may not have been fortunate to be well educated himself!
Our final stretch of the walk to Shackerstone did not produce many birds, but as we arrived at the railway bridge, a final scan revealed a female Kestrel, seven House Martins, a Heron and a Jay before a welcome meal and refreshments at the charming little Rising Sun pub rounded off another most enjoyable day.
No new birds again for this leg of the Round, so the pressure’s on for our final part on Saturday 30th April. Here’s hoping!