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May In The Forest

May in the Forest
It’s a bit late in the year to be talking about winter visitors but some of ours don’t seem to want to leave. Last month we saw a small flock of Bramblings under the garden bird feeders on several occasions, clearing up the spillage from the Great and Blue Tits, Great Spotted Woodpeckers and Nuthatches. They like to feed in beech woodlands from September to March or April, but when the beech mast is finished (and the area of beech trees in the Wyre Forest is pretty limited) they visit nearby fields to eat weed seeds and grain. Sometimes they join flocks of Chaffinches, which is very confusing as they look alike. The individual in the photo seemed to have missed her flight home to the breeding grounds of the Scandinavian birch woods, and hung about the farm for a bit longer. Perhaps she was looking for a Place in the Sun.
In the last few weeks we have also had visits from a ‘pair’ of Mandarin Ducks. (I write ‘pair’ because the lady was definitely a Mallard). Mandarins are interesting: although they are native to the far-east they have made themselves at home in the British Isles and large numbers can be seen on the Severn during the winter, particularly near Trimpley Reservoir. They have a diet very similar to the Brambling and, rather surprisingly, can perch in trees and like to nest in large tree holes. We discovered this fact when our only old apple tree at Uncllys was chosen as a nest site in 2008. We watched fascinated as they came and went, building the nest, and wondered how the ducklings would negotiate the ascent of the hollow trunk to reach water. Maybe the mother realised her mistake – at any rate the nest was abandoned.
I’ve been reading ‘Wilding’ by Isabella Tree: the story of the re-wilding of the Knepp Estate in Sussex. One of their earliest success stories was of the Turtle Dove. Threatened with extinction in Britain, the estate saw numbers of singing males rise from one or two in 2001 to 16 by 2017. I had to resort to the RSPB website to find out what a Turtle Dove would sound like, but its throaty, purring call would have been a common sound in the Wyre Forest up until the mid-seventies when numbers here and in the rest of the nation went into a steep decline. They used to be found in tall scrub and young plantations, often nesting in older conifers, and feed in weedy arable fields. Now that grain harvests are followed so quickly by winter crops there is little quantity or time for the birds to feed or raise second broods and they are almost literally squeezed out. (Thanks to ‘The Nature of Wyre’ for this information). What would it take for our forest, the Wyre Forest National Nature Reserve, to see the Turtle Dove return?

Linda Iles