A lovely morning for my third breeding bird survey today (albeit a little chilly at 6 am!).  My 'patch' is the wooded heathland part of the nature reserve so I spent a good 3 hours this morning exploring the area and mapping out all of the birds that I could see and hear.

Let's start by saying it is a good job that I am fond of wrens - I think there are more wrens in this area than all of the other birds put together - and I don't think there was a single moment where a wren could not be heard shouting at the top of his voice. Still, I always marvel at the volume, urgency and sheer number of notes per second in this song.

Wren by Chris Prince

Whilst the amount and variety of birdsong is perhaps starting to reduce now, there is certainly plenty of activity with lots of busy parents feeding hungry demanding chicks. I came across several broods each of long-tailed tit, great tits and blue tits and two great-spotted woodpecker nests.  But my highlight of the morning has to be the spotted flycatcher, and I was lucky enough to come across them in two areas. If you're keen to seek them out then try the Black Pond/Black Wood area and up at 'The Clump'.  If you're not familiar with the song and call then it's worth having a listen to recordings beforehand  it certainly helped me to track them down this morning.

Spotted flycatcher by Phil Thornton

On the Triangle I had a fly-by hobby who gracefully swooped overhead close enough to show me his black bandit mask and rusty-red breeches. 

Hobby by Graham Osborne

Closer to the ground several green tiger beetles scuttled over the sandy paths before whirring off with a flash of their metallic wings.

Although I didn't hear the woodlark singing this morning, there is still occasional song audible from the clump.  Whilst you're there do listen out for the noisy chirruping of field crickets. These rare and threatened insects have been reintroduced to the heath as part of the 'Back from the Brink' project which involves conservation partners across the UK aiming to protect habitats and save species from extinction.

A visit to Black Pond is certainly worthwhile on a sunny day as they are busy with dragonflies and damselflies.

Four spotted chaser by Gareth Hughes

Four-spotted chasers are perhaps the most abundant of the dragonflies but keep an eye out for the powder-blue abdomens of male broad-bodied chasers & patrolling hairy dragonflies. On Friday, I was out and about running a workshop on dragonflies for some of my volunteers and we were fortunate to see perhaps my favourite dragonfly - the downy emerald. Look for a smallish metallic-green dragonfly with a bright yellow & green face patrolling the margins of the heathland pond.  Amongst the daintier damselflies were azure & large red damselflies and beautiful demoiselle.

We also had our first heathland 'Night-time safari' on Thursday evening. A fabulous warm and still evening began with hot drinks and nibbles whilst watching the sun set over the reserve and enjoying a close look at some incredible moths. We then started our heathland safari, quickly picking up soprano pipistrelle bats who flitted around the tree canopy as dusk descended. They were soon joined by common pipistrelle and a myotis species (probably whiskered bat).

We then heard a brief 'chur' from a nightjar.  Although there were only brief periods of churring as we explored the central heath, there was more wing clapping and aerial display than I've ever experienced here before. It seems that we have at least two male nightjars on site who seem to be showing off and trying to impress with their flight displays.  Nightjars are incredibly buoyant in flight - although the same size as a kestrel they weigh the same as the (much smaller) starling.  If you would like to come and see/hear our nightjars please be sure to stay on the paths - either look east from Black Pond or head up to The Clump and look south or west (you'll find benches conveniently sited up here too!).  We heard Tawny Owls hooting and also picked up the larger Serotine bat too.

If you would like to join us on one of our Night-time Safaris we still have a couple of spaces left on our event on Thursday 6 June and also on Saturday 6 July - please contact the Visitor Centre on 01798 875851 if you'd like to book a place.

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