Wanderings in a Welsh Woodland

High above the River Dee, snaking its way through the steep sided valleys of the North Wales landscape, small pockets of oak woodland nestle amongst green open pastures, dotted with white sheep. Higher still and the green pastures and woodlands turn to the browns and reds of the moors. In this part of the valley grey sheer, rock faces stand sentry overlooking and the skeletal remains of a castle crown the top of a hill which stands away from the slopes in the middle of the valley.

During the summer months these woodlands provide a breeding space for a number of migrant birds. Arriving to make the most of our summer and the abundance of insect food it provides. Two characteristic species of summer, mature oak woodlands are the redstart and pied flycatcher. Their preference for such woodlands means they are more often found in western parts of the UK where such habitat remains.
Beautiful female pied flycatcher

Like many UK birds these species have suffered a decline in numbers over the last few years, in part due to the loss of breeding and overwintering habitat but also due to climate change. Recent research with pied flycatchers indicates there is an increasing mismatch between the timing of peak caterpillar abundance and the period when chicks require the most food.

Such research has relied on projects looking at the breeding success of these birds, aided by the fact they readily take to nest boxes. The pied flycatcher is one of the best studied migrants, with many long term projects having been run since the 1970s. One such study has been undertaken in the woodlands above the town of Llangollen, and it was here we headed to help check the boxes.

Loaded with a ladder, a note book and some ringing kit, we picked our way through the trees, climbing the slopes carpeted with crinkly brown leaves, sleek, shiny green bluebell leaves and dead, crumbling branches. Each box was checked, the contents recorded and if possible the adult bird and chicks ringed.

Pied flycatcher nest – lovely blue eggs with a neat nest with oak leaves
Redstart nest – slightly darker blue eggs and also note the number of feathers
woven into the nest also

In total we checked over 70 nest boxes, although there were many empty boxes and most of the occupied ones had blue tits in, we did come across a number of pied flycatcher and redstart broods. Of these we managed to ring nine broods of blue tit, two broods of pied flycatcher and three broods of redstart. We also caught five adult female pied flycatchers. A rewarding days wandering around a beautiful woodland in Wales.

Pied flycatcher brood freshly ringed and returned to their nest
Rather scruffy though still beautiful redstart chick

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