Friday, 1 January 2016

A reassembly of Rooks

Dawn on New Year's Day, and a slow saunter looking for Woodpigeon flight lines (many returning to the Medway Towns after being bombed out of their roosts at midnight). I stop to watch the sunrise over Hawes Wood (a busy Woodpigeon roost itself at times, not today) close to the Brent Cottages rookery on the western edge of Upchurch. Veteran nesters have already been reasserting their ownership rights here for several weeks now. 

This 'early activity' is not down to global warming as some would have it; Rooks always stake their claims in the winter months. Perhaps such actions give time for further dispersal by the unsuccessful? Perhaps sorting rank and position in a colony takes time that they can ill-afford in the true breeding season? Whatever the reason, their return to the nests is another promise of Spring.

To start, the birds mainly just pay short visits at first light, but they then start to stay a little longer each day. For this particular gathering, the pasture between rookery and Lower Halstow provides excellent feeding so, even when away from their nests, they are usually very close by now. This morning they were happy to assemble on wires just over the hedge from the main road.

The complex of associated satellites of the Funton rookery are also just as busy now. Last year more of the low trees atop Raspberry Hill were removed. These clumps had only been adopted as satellites after surrounding orchards were grubbed out several years ago now. Suitable nestsites are at a premium. It will be interesting to see if 2016 brings the establishment of a new satellite slightly further out, or if breeding numbers contract. Again, good feeding habitat is plentiful, and the Funton Rooks are catholic feeders, often to be found out on the mudflats searching the algal mats.

Hopefully these birds will remain a fixture in the years to come.

(If anyone comes across it, there is a lovely old book, "The Life of the Rook", by G.K. Yeates. First published in 1934, it describes their nesting habits in great detail, based on observations made just down the road in East Kent. It carries a lovely dedication to 'The George and Dragon' at Fordwich and all its inmates.)

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