Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Western woodlands

I grew up in the Forest of Dean but since my folks moved to Devon several years ago, my opportunities to go back have been few and far between. This means that once regular visits to Nagshead to see summer migrants in the oak woodlands have become a thing of the past. I failed to catch up with a Pied Flycatcher or a Wood Warbler on migration this spring in Dorset - it was a pretty poor year for both at our coastal watch-points - and only saw my first Redstart of the year when it was back on territory in Wareham Forest.
Male Pied Flycatcher, Yarner Wood
This male appeared to be bringing a caterpillar back for a female presumably sitting on eggs in a nestbox 
Photographing black and white birds in the dappled light of the wood was challenging to say the least. And when the light was good, the view was obscured!

So when a family camping trip last weekend left me surplus to requirements, I seized the opportunity of a Sunday drive to one of my nearest Pied Flycatcher breeding areas - Yarner Wood in Devon, on the eastern edge of Dartmoor, less than two hours from home. I had visited this area on a summer holiday a few years ago but the Pied Flycatchers had already shipped out. So I knew where to go but not exactly where the best areas for seeing the birds might be. I needn't have worried - the answer was just about everywhere! Every other nestbox seemed to host a pair, many choosing to set up camp right next to the path and chip aggressively at passers by.
Many of the Pied Flycatchers bore leg rings
Flycatcher doing what it says on the tin
A male in full song
In contrast to the apparent abundance of Pied Flycatchers, Wood Warblers seemed to be having a terrible year. I bumped into a chap who said he had seen one going into a nearby nestbox. This didn't sound quite right as Wood Warblers don't use nestboxes, and it would be singing almost constantly at this time of year. I returned to my friend to ask if he was sure about what he'd seen and he showed me a photo he had taken of a female Pied Fly. Okay, they're not the hardest species to separate but let's not be too judgemental, we all have to start somewhere...
Females were more elusive, generally sitting on eggs - but this one came out to stretch her wings
Just the one Spotted Flycatcher seen - but it was certainly making itself heard
This Redstart was one of several singing males
I wandered off again and it transpired that my friend had fallen foul of some numerical as well as avian confusion - he had been advised to look for a Wood Warbler near a numbered nest box ending in '13' but, when I eventually tuned in to the familiar cascade of shimmering notes from a singing Wood Warbler, and looked at the nearest nestbox, I realised he had misheard what must have been described to him as a '30'. One of the reserve staff came by soon after and broke the unhappy news that I had located the only singing Wood Warbler in Yarner Wood.
Wood Warbler
The Wood Warbler stayed high in the canopy
A lovely bird to hear and to watch in song - the whole body shakes with the effort
I could see bling on both of the Wood Warbler's legs which I assumed had been fitted when it was a nestling, but the warden explained that it had in fact only recently been colour-ringed and fitted with a geo-locator. Hopefully this can provide some insight into what might have gone wrong for its congeners on the long migration to tropical Africa to inform future conservation efforts.
Pearl-bordered Fritillary on the path at Yarner Wood - a male I think judging by the slim abdomen
One of our rarer species, getting a helping hand on Dartmoor via Butterfly Conservation's All the Moor Butterflies project
The beautiful underwing of the Pearl-bordered Fritillary
While the Wood Warbler tally was a tad depressing, Redstarts seemed to be doing okay with several singing males, and a Spotted Flycatcher also brightened up a glade which was otherwise full of its Pied cousins. A nearby clearing produced another highlight - a colony of Pearl-bordered Fritillary. Initially very active in the hot and sheltered micro-climate of the clearing, the sun went in just long enough to cause one to snap its wings shut to reveal the diagnostic - and very striking - underwing pattern. An uplifting spring day in western oak woodland - just what the doctor ordered.
Out on the moor proper I could not find a Whinchat, but Meadow Pipits were plentiful
Small Copper on Dartmoor
The first Pied Flycatcher of the day in Yarner Wood

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