Welsh boxes

Snaking through the valley, between steep sided mountains with rounded tops, the river runs like a silvery ribbon, parallel to the grey road and straight black lines of a railway. All three sandwiched together on the valley floor. Trees, grasses and bushes in a myriad of shades of green cover the valley floor, screening road and rail from the river, and extending up the sides of the valley in a thick blanket to meet a sky that swirled with grey and white clouds and blue sky.

On one stretch a grassy field adjoined the babbling river. Patches of yellow buttercups and tufts of sheep’s wool lay among the long blades of green. The edge of the field was ringed with trees, their canopies full and verdant green against the wrinkly brown of the trunk and branches. The trees line the rivers edge, a living fence beyond which the river rushes past, rippling and swirling. On the other sides the trees screen a small road, backed up by the rising valley sides, and more fields where sheep look on with bemused expressions. On every other tree or so around this perimeter a small wooden box is attached to the trunk, high enough to avoid roaming cattle, but not too high. They are in various stages of disrepair, having not been checked for a few years, some have disappeared all together, fallen off to be washed away by winter flood waters.

We see plenty of these kinds of nest boxes at home. Perfect for small hole nesting species of birds. There it is Blue and Great Tit that we predominantly find, with the occasional Nuthatch. Here in the wilds of North Wales it is a small black and white bird that tends to take up residence, along with a fair share of tits and another glorious species but we’ll come to that. The small black and white bird is the Pied Flycatcher.

Having returned from its winter grounds in western Africa these small, dainty birds return to mainly western areas of the UK to breed. Now here they are, having made a neat nest from grass and oak leaves they have laid perfect turquoise eggs that will hatch, with the chicks being fed on caterpillars the male and females have timed their arrival in the UK for. Not many of the boxes are occupied. Many are in quite a bad state, although one nest has been made in a box with a huge split and seemed to be coping OK. But there are a couple of Pied Flycatchers with eggs and we even manage to catch a female.

Female Pied Flycatcher

Then we come to another box and there are chicks. The nest has more feathers woven into the grass. The chicks have reddish feathers coming through on the flanks. They are not Pied Flycatcher but another other summer visitor from the flycatcher family, the Common Redstart. Once thought to be part of the thrush and chat family along with Blackbirds and Robins, this smart bird is now classified as an Old World Flycatcher. Old world referring to their range being restricted to Europe, Africa and Asia, Flycatcher due to the habit of catching arboreal insects on the wing. In this case we were able to catch the stunning adult male associated with the nest. And what a bird. Russet orange underneath, slate grey back and head, black face and brilliant white forehead, there is nothing ‘common’ about him. Unfortunately as we many of our migrant breeding birds, the Redstart is in decline, and is listed as Amber on the Birds of Conservation Concern.

Stunning male Redstart

I have been here before. Wandering around a welsh woodland checking boxes put up for monitoring Pied Flycatchers and Restarts. The difference here is that this is now our site. This and another site have been handed to us to undertake the maintenance and monitoring of the boxes.

The second site is much more of a classic ‘Pied Flycatcher Nest Box Site in Wales’ in that it is in a woodland on a steep mountain side, and in this case with a stream running down the middle. Makes for fun scrambling up and down!

For now, one of the tasks top of the ‘To Do List’ is to replace and repair many of the boxes…

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