Thursday 4 June 2020

Yarner Wood

I want to start this blog post with a bit of a disclaimer and some (hopefully) common sense nature-watching advice.  Even during my short visit I saw some questionable behaviour, so just wanted to stress...

It is VITAL that anyone watching any birds nest, particularly those of scarce species, does so at a suitable distance and in a way that the birds are unaffected by your presence.  Listen for alarm calls from adults and juveniles and watch the adults behaviour. If there's any change in that, like for example adults flying around with beaks full of food but not actually going to the nest, then get the hell out of there!  It's a crucial time when young are in the nest, the adults need to get food down their gullets in such high volume that any delay could be costly, plus there's always a danger that a frequently disturbed nest could be completely abandoned.  

On the other side of the coin though, and despite my big red text, there does seem to be something of a taboo about watching birds nests.  With good field craft it shouldn't be a problem and can prove so educational, engaging and rewarding.  Be aware of the law though, stay well away from any Schedule 1 species (even though I think the list is in need of a bit of an update!).

Right, let's crack on with the post...

At the end of May I spent a few hours one morning at Yarner Wood for a change of scenery.  I am as devoted to my patch as any patch birder, but still sometimes think it's good to have some 'away time'. Especially in a spring that for much of we were locked down for!

Such a species-rich woodland

As a coastal patch birder, a place where spring and autumn migration is such a major factor in the birding calendar, it's easy to associate species with the 'wrong' habitat.  Redstarts and Pied Flies for example, well for me that's April, or mid Aug - early Oct on Beer Head, in thickets of scrub on the edge of open ground.  But of course that isn't their true habitat at all.  Taking the time to see these species in their breeding sites actually serves as a good lesson, this is the reason they make the epic journey here from South Africa and why we sometimes are lucky enough to see them on the south coast.  

I don't think I've actually explained the above paragraph very well, but hopefully you kind of get my thinking?  Seeing them in their true home, in the middle of the breeding season frantically feeding young, actually completes the bigger picture.  I just need to go and seem them in their wintering quarters now! Jess? :-)

Anyway back to this visit and Yarner Wood was absolutely superb.  I have been there many times but never have I seen it so busy with birds.  I think in the past I have timed visits to coincide with a good amount of song, whereas during this visit there was very little in song.  That was clearly because everything looked so busy feeding young, and due to the late May date I should imagine many of the young were only a day or so off fledging. Big young need big amounts of food!  I have also heard it is a good Pied Fly season, with just under 100 nest boxes occupied by this species here. Redstarts and Spot Flies seemed numerous and active too but I don't know the numbers of these.

Hopefully these few picture will set the scene better than any of my blurb...

Male Pied Flycatcher - I saw at least 16 Pied Flies during my quick loop walk

This female Pied Fly bringing a Large Yellow Underwing back for breakfast

A super male Redstart - saw five Redstarts in total (3m, 2f)

A lady Redstart with bling!

I knew it was going to be a good visit even before I'd entered the wood.  From the entrance gate itself opposite the upper Trendlebere Down car park, there were two Pied and a Spotted Flycatcher, a Garden Warbler, then about ten paces inside the gate a male Redstart. Magic!

A great start!

So that's 16+ Pied Flycatcher, five Redstart plus four Spotted Flies, five Willow Warbler, one Garden Warbler, heaps of Siskin, two Lesser Redpoll, and...

The other reason for my visit at this time of year was to catch up with a rapidly declining species that I just don't see enough of.  The only reason I am posting this is because I know they have now fledged and disturbance to the nest can no longer be an issue.

Although early spring is often quoted as the time of year to find this species, it's this week for me when the young are noisily advertising their presence. To be honest, how any nests of this species are successful is a miracle to me - the young literally don't stop calling and if I can find them then any potential predator can too! 

I must stress, in keeping with my opening paragraphs, the hour I spent watching these adult Lesser-spotted Woodpeckers coming and going, I did so from a considerable distance (as can be seen by the amount of foliage in the pics between me and the nest hole!).  The only time I heard them alarm call, when the male also gave a bout of song, was when a Great-spotted Woodpecker landed on the top of the nesting tree. My heart was in my mouth as Great-spotted Woodpeckers will happily raid a nest, but gladly this one flew off without causing any damage.  

You can see from the quality of my pics that my aim was to watch and enjoy. Photos were almost an after-thought...

The male - or some of it anyway!

The female and one of it's offspring just

Such a privilege to find and be able to study this rare species.  These were my first Lesser Spots for so many years and what a way to see them.

The adults really do not hang around the nest site, they were in and out in less than ten seconds on most occasions, with a nest visit roughly every four minutes.  Interestingly the male visited far more often than the female.  On the occasions that both parents arrived at similar times, one would wait out on a nearby tree for the other to feed the young before moving in themselves.  In typical Lesser Spot fashion I loved the way they appeared and disappeared, so ghostly-like. Out of nowhere there'd be one on the nesting tree, and after a quick visit to the nest hole it would fly back into the wood and simply melt into the canopy.

What a fantastic morning and I hope you've enjoyed me reliving it :-)


  1. Wonderful photos! Photographing nature in their wild habitat without disturbing them is trying but rewarding.
    Greetings from Sri Lanka!

    1. Thankyou for your comment Janitha - it sure is! Best wishes, Steve