By James Duncan
Woods Mill Learning and Engagement Officer
Even allowing for rapidly soaring temperatures throughout June, Woods Mill has been a hive of bird activity. June has marked the brooding, hatching and fledging of many a woodland species. The frenzied contact calls of juvenile Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits now punctuate the paths criss-crossing the reserve. Young Robins stalk visitors, keeping a keen eye on crumbs dropped or indeed seed miraculously produced from a concealed pocket. Song Thrushes continue to announce their presence, not just through song, but by the unmistakable hammering of snail shells upon a hard path, the tool of their trade. The frantic alarm calls of adult Blackbird often ring out, no doubt owing to Magpie and perhaps even Jay on the hunt for a nestling meal. The melodic, fluted warble of Blackcap, repetitive two-note Chiffchaff, explosive and far carrying liquid song of Cetti's Warbler and frenzied, high pitched trills of Wren compete in volume at a time when many of the songbirds begin to quieten, particularly single brooders with breeding season complete.
We've been lucky enough to witness the breeding success of our renowned Kestrels (all six chicks having fledged!), the resident Mute Swans (five cygnets half way to fledging), the Little Grebes (currently four self-reliant chicks), a family of Reed Warblers (squeaky song still radiating from the reed-bed) a Reed Bunting pair in East Low Meads and seen for the first time, a pair of Tawny Owls (with two chicks). No doubt many of Woods Mills' other residents including Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Dunnock, Great-spotted Woodpecker, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Willow Warbler, Whitethroat and Lesser Whitethroat have also successfully reared young across the reserves' 48 hectares. We would also hope that some of our red-listed residents such as Linnet, Marsh Tit and both Song and Mistle Thrush have enjoyed some success, particularly considering their hugely declining populations in recent years.
After arriving from sub-Saharan Africa in April, the male Nightingales promptly and vociferously began to sing. With a stunning vocal range of 1106 syllables, they were a real attraction, even though the song had largely peaked by early June. As ever they proved difficult to spot, particularly with the explosion in vegetation in late spring. Any young reared by the reserves' breeding pair would have become independent within 2-3 weeks of leaving the nest, preparing for a mammoth migration across both the Mediterranean and Sahara in late summer. Turtle Doves have been spotted on numerous occasions, their soft, purring, cat-like calls heard across the reserve since their arrival in May. It's remained a little unclear as to whether a pair have successfully bred within the reserve boundaries, though there certainly are territories within the immediate vicinity. Both these birds are in critical decline, having incurred more than 50% losses in either their breeding numbers or breeding range within the last 25 years. In the case of the Turtle Dove, those losses are more than 90%, shocking figures.
The meadows of Mill Ditch Field, East Low Meads and Seven Acre Brook have proved to be fantastic spots to observe raptors, and in particular, hunting Barn Owl. Their majestic flights have been frequently witnessed, gliding silently, watching carefully for the slightest movement within the grass - signalling the death knell for many a rodent. With such fabulous blue skies throughout the month, Red Kite, Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Hobby (and of course, Kestrel) have all been observed, the unmistakable silhouettes of splayed primary feathers or scythed wingtips denoting hawk or falcon in each case.
In the skies overhead, Swifts scream and Swallows twitter, both birds showing supreme agility in their quest to catch flying insects. Now is a great time to head on down to Woods Mill and check out the variety of species that both nest, forage and hunt within the reserves' boundaries.