The Forest was bursting into life, shaking off the muted and quiet shades of winter and blooming in celebration of Spring. Across all the trees and bushes leaves were unfolding in a multitude of shades of green, adding lighter shades to the deeper evergreens of the pines.
Set against this green is the skeleton of the forest, the dark browns and greys of trunk and limb, from vast girths hinting at ancient individuals, to spindly newcomers. The floor is a carpet of crinkly brown leaves and crumbly dead wood, tangles of thorny briars and the first green shoots pushing their way skywards. Between the woods and the plantation are long narrow corridors of open space where the track cuts through the forest. Here, above these openings, clouds chase each other across the sky, intermittently revealing a bright warm sun. Newly emerged butterflies dance down these open corridors of grass and gravel, from bright yellow brimstones, to an orange-tip and a speckled wood. All around the birds are in full voice, yellowhammers, chiffchaff, willow warbler, chaffinch and the return of that enigmatic summer visitor the cuckoo.
Through this landscape we drive, rumbling slowly down the tracks, stopping every so often to climb a ladder and check one of our owl nest boxes. Compared with last year occupancy of boxes in terms of tawny owls is low, with just two active nests compared with five last year. It may be that the birds have had a poor winter, especially with the extreme cold in February. Indeed catching them through the winter was not been as effective for us this year, and indications from other tawny owl projects in the UK is that they are late in breeding. Still, fingers crossed for these two nests.
Since we started the project however there has been another star species in our boxes. In 2016 we were excited to find mandarin nests in two of our boxes, and were even more delighted to catch and ring two females. Then in 2017 we found one of our females had returned to exactly the same box! In addition we caught another new female in one of the other boxes.
And so here we are in 2018, and once again we have mandarin nesting in our boxes. Only this year it is not just one, or two, but three nesting mandarin! Not only that, but two are returning birds. Our original female from 2016, having spent 2017 in the same box, has now made a move to a new box. The female we ringed in 2017 has returned to the same box as last year. What will 2019 bring for these exotically beautiful, tree nesting ducks? Well, that’s a question for another year…