Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Ladybower Wood bird box success (2014)

 A view over Ladybower Wood

Upland Oakwood in the Peak District is a rare habitat and I am lucky enough to be able to monitor the nest boxes in the Derbyshire Wildlife Trusts Ladybower site. This SSSI site has over 75 species of lichen recorded but it’s the Bird life that excites me.

Early Spring in Ladybower Wood

The first time I visited this site it totally blew me away, it is a magical place with stunted Oaks, Silver birch & Rowan. Large grit-stone boulders lye abandoned between the trees and are covered in thick moss and lichens of all colours. Early mornings bring an extra level of beauty that is normally created by special effects teams in fantasy movies, a low floating mist rolls over the rocks and beams of sunlight penetrate the canopy and light up the woodland floor. Bird song completes this picture and quickly makes you forget the steep climb and aching limbs that you’ve suffered to get here. CurlewWillow WarblerTree Pipit & Spotted Flycatcher are just some of the members of this harmonious choir.
Curlew on moorland that looks over Ladybower
Make your way to the top dry stone walled boundary and you look out over gorgeous Peak District moorland where you can see Red GrouseMeadow Pipit Kestrel. Turn around 180° and a vista that takes some beating makes the climb worth it, the light shimmers off Ladybower Reservoir where a valley thick with trees rises from its shoreline & the sound of calling Cuckoo puts the cherry firmly on top of this bird watching cake.
Kestrel hovers above the moorland

As with all woodlands the best way to watch birds is to find a comfortable spot and wait, if you have the patience to sit for a hour or so most birds will pass over or near you as they move through the trees in search of food.
Juvenile Blackbird

A very young Wren recently fledged

This was my 5th year ringing pullus in the 50+ boxes we have on site. 4 species of bird use these artificial tree holes which are Blue Tit, Great Tit, Pied Flycatcher & Redstart.

The Redstarts arrive back from north Africa in early April and the males will quickly establish territories using a short almost melodious rattle of a song. Great views are possible with this bird as they are not shy and will come quite close, listen out for a short repeated call to help locate them. The male has got to be one of our most beautiful birds with slate grey crown, nape & mantle, jet black face, coverts & primaries & a crimson red breast & flanks to put a Robin to shame. Then the rusty red tail that gives this most dandy bird its name ('start' being an old word for tail).

Male Redstart

Male Redstart sings to attract a mate

Typical box

We have had 2 successful boxes this year, (only one in previous years) with 6 eggs laid in one and 7 in the second. After an incubation of around two weeks both clutches hatched with different levels of success, there were 2 infertile eggs in the first box but all 7 made it from the second box.

7 Redstart eggs, note moss & sheeps wool.

Redstart Distribution Map from BTO Atlas

Mid April brings another visitor from Africa and the clear crisp song of the Pied Flycatcher. This is the bird I always really look forward to seeing when I come here, the stunning male dressed in black & white stands out among the trees whereas the female with her drab brown plumage is much harder to spot.
Female Pied Flycatcher brings in food for young

Male Pied Flycatcher checks on young family

Male Pied Flycatcher

This species is more successful here with 5 boxes used this year (3 to 4 is more common). Clutch sizes were good with 7,7,6,6 & 7 sky blue eggs laid. Hatching numbers were good too with only 1 egg failing to hatch. Both male & female will incubate with the female taking on most of the responsibility as males can sometimes practice bigamy by taking on a second partner. This means the mother has to work extra hard to feed the young, lucky for them that this spring has been ideal and there are lots of insects and small caterpillars around.

Pied Flycatcher eggs, note no green vegetation in the nest

Pied Flycatcher Distribution Map from BTO Atlas

10 days later I returned to check on the young birds and ring them if they had grown sufficiently. It gave me great pleasure to discover that all chicks were now well grown and healthy, they were also the perfect size to ring so I got to work ringing all 32 Pied Flycatcher and 11 Redstart pullus.
Female Pied Flycatcher sat on eggs

Young Redstarts at around 10 days old

Both these birds have suffered in recent years leading to them being placed on the Amber list of birds. In the 1990's numbers of Pied Flycatcher pullus ringed was almost 25,000, this has plummeted to just over 8,000 in 2013 (BTO ringing total), Redstarts have dropped too with numbers of pullus ringed down from around 2,000 to just over 1,200 (BTO ringing totals) in the same period. This is Probably a result of there being fewer ringers finding nest sites and the decline in visiting birds breeding. This means that our 43 young birds are very important and hopefully with a bit of luck and some good weather a good percentage can survive the trip back to Africa and return next year to breed here again.

Blue Tit & Great Tit success is down a little this year, brood sizes are up to 7.67 & 8.00 respectively but fewer boxes were used than in previous years, this could have benefited the Pieds & Redstarts with less competition for food.

Blue Tit eggs

Adult bird sat on eggs
Almost ready for fledging

Great Tit Eggs, large variety of nesting materials 
Same season but different materials used

This Great Tit has had a wonderfully successful season

Every year I ring in Ladybower Wood I feel very privileged to have these very close encounters with all of these birds, including the Blue & Great Tits. All birds are special to me and playing my part in providing nest sites and the monitoring of the boxes gives me great pleasure. Some ringers say ringing is about data and the process should not be enjoyed, but i'll never understand that attitude, how could I not thoroughly enjoy this very personal contact with some of our wonderful wildlife. I get to watch these young birds grow from egg to fledge, and help protect them at the same time. 2014 also gave me the opportunity to spend an afternoon with Iolo Wiiliams  in Ladybower Wood as Iolo and his film crew came to film our Pied Flycatcher & Redstarts. 

Other birds you could see in and around Ladybower wood include Cuckoo which have been here in great numbers this year, with 4 singing males heard and seen in the wood. I have seen Hawfinch here for the first time, Spotted Flycatchers are around in abundance and Woodcock take flight from the leaf litter. Tree Pipits singing from the edge of the reserve are another treat along with more common species like Nuthatch, Treecreeeper, Siskin, Chaffinch, Common Buzzard, Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Whitethroat & Great Spotted Woodpecker.

One worry this year is that I’ve not heard Wood Warbler for the first time in 5 years. Hopefully it's just bad luck on my part and they are around but I have just not heard their distinctive song. I will visit again on the 10th of August after supporting Hen Harrier Day which takes place just around the corner to check all pullus have fledged and clean out the boxes. I'll keep my fingers crossed they have arrived albeit a little late.

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