The latest report from Michael Walter:
When the birds of a wood, albeit quite a large one by southern English standards, have been recorded for 38 years, you do tend to be running out of surprises; in that time I’ve recorded ten species of wader, rarities like wryneck and Arctic redpoll, and, most bizarrely, fulmar, but nothing had prepared me for the latest addition to the reserve list on 2nd April – a white-tailed eagle. Also known as a flying barn door on account of its vast wingspan and broad wings, about 130 pairs now breed in western Scotland, thanks to a reintroduction scheme that began in the 1970s (earlier attempts in the 1950s and 1960s proved unsuccessful). The last recorded breeding pair in England was on the Isle of Wight in 1780, so it is fitting that the new reintroduction project should be taking place on that island, with the first six young eagles translocated there from Scotland last year. It has now been confirmed that the Blean bird was from the Isle of Wight, whither it had returned after four days wandering around south east England.
The first chiffchaff appeared on 14th March, with good numbers piling in during the next three weeks, making it a main constituent of the dawn chorus this year. The next migrant to arrive was a blackcap on 26th March, not surprisingly my joint earliest record for this partial migrant after such a mild winter, while a nightingale on 6th April was the earliest since 2001. Willow warblers are still hanging on in the woods, with one singing its lovely, liquid song on 7th April.
Pairs of Mandarin ducks were once again seen making great elliptical courtship flights over the treetops, joined on one occasion by a third bird of unknown sex. This display behaviour is a sure sign that the birds intend nesting in the wood once again, though I have no idea where, and have yet to prove successful breeding of this alien species.
Early spring is the time to see and hear all three species of woodpecker. The least conspicuous is the diminutive lesser spotted woodpecker, its small size (little bigger than a sparrow) and habit of feeding in the upper branches of trees being enough to try the patience of the most dedicated birdwatcher. Now, however, the breeding imperative means they have to defend a territory, which in turn requires them to indicate their intentions to rival males by drumming on suitably resonant branches. Alas, their limp-beaked efforts are remarkably faint and, as if embarrassed by their poor performances, the males seldom drum, further increasing their ability to hide away from peering eyes. The call, a fairly high-pitched “kee-kee-kee”, carries much further, often attracting the attention of a great spotted woodpecker, which then replies with a hard “kik”, and often flies over to investigate its small cousin; it would appear that there is some antipathy between the two species, despite the great difference in feeding strategies.
A small flock of crossbills flew over on 24th March - a bird I hadn’t seen for a while. With beaks exquisitely designed for prising open pine cones but not much else, crossbills are dependent on this food resource, and conifer seeds are most freely available from autumn through to spring, which means that the birds can nest in late winter, long before most other species start gearing up for the breeding season. I heard the birds calling as they flew over, but didn’t see them, so don’t know how many there were, but it was quite possibly a small post-breeding family group.
Two juvenile crossbills courtesy of Dave Smith
White-tailed eagle photo courtesy of Dave Smith. This photo is of an adult, whereas the bird over Blean was a juvenile and so lacked the white tail.
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