The latest report from Michael Walter:

It seems to have been an extremely quiet period for most species that usually grace the reserve for at least part of the winter:  two small finches, the siskin and redpoll, are virtually non-existent, at least when I visit the wood;  and our two wintering thrushes – redwing and fieldfare – have been in extremely short supply, even in the orchards locally.  The mild weather certainly won’t have encouraged these birds to make the often hazardous trip across the North Sea or down from Scotland, so if clement winters are to become the norm, we may have to get used to seeing less of these once-familiar birds.


There has, however, been a smattering of interesting bird records:  on 13th January some of the RSPB team were lucky enough to obtain views of a barn owl, the only previous sighting being in 1983, just one year after the RSPB’s involvement in Blean began.  The well-wooded reserve is far from being typical habitat for these ghostly birds, so it is no surprise that sightings are so rare, and undoubtedly refer to birds that are just passing through.  I would be interested to know if this latest bird is resident nearby, as I am unaware of any local barn owls, so please let me know of any sightings you have from the Blean area.  Shortly beforehand, a group of four ravens had been seen flying over the wood;  single birds and pairs are now an occasional feature of the Blean bird list, but a party of four must be a first.  It does sometimes feel as though the greatest ornithological excitement in Blean Woods is to be had by looking skywards!


One of the first welcome blooms of every New Year is the snowdrop.  Generally thought of as a garden and graveyard flower, it may possibly be native to riversides in the West Country and Wales.  However, its occurrence on the reserve in a number of spots close to the Rough Common Road is undoubtedly due to its being planted there by well-meaning residents, or perhaps developing from discarded garden rubbish.  There are apparently over 2500 varieties of snowdrop (Linnean name Galanthus nivalis, meaning milk flower of the snow), with their own dedicated Snowdrop Group to honour them, but I have to admit that to me they are all just snowdrops!


I was saddened to see that someone has been cutting the ivy stems on the trunks of oaks lining the reserve’s access track.  There is a mistaken belief that ivy is parasitic on the trees it grows up, when in fact it is merely using them as supports, though admittedly their roots, in such close proximity to the tree’s, are probably in competition for water and nutrients.  The worst that can be said of established, billowing ivy growth is that its weight may cause the collapse of weak boughs;  but set against that minor inconvenience is the wonderful cover that its evergreen foliage provides for birds, especially in deciduous woodland where shelter and food are scarce resources in winter, while in spring its network of miniature trunks can provide concealed nest sites for some species.  And there are other benefits:  in late summer, when most plants have abandoned flowering for the year, ivy comes into its own on sunny September and October days, providing nectar for hoverflies and many other insects.  The other half of this particular benefit is that late flowering equates to late fruiting, and the dull blue-black berries are available to birds, particularly wood pigeons and blackbirds, during the lean winter months.

Snowdrops on Rough Common Bank

Barn owl by Dave Smith