Sunday, 6 March 2016


The local woodlands are being slowly eaten by the river Swale. Beech, birch and scots pine dominate with alder, holly and blackthorn completing the under-storey. The fragile lick of trees that stand firm to the rivers annual flood and power hold animals not found elsewhere locally. Nuthatch, marsh tit and goldcrest live in the canopy year-round. In late summer, purple hairstreak flitter unnoticed in the stubborn few oak that remain. The mossy, mould-softened branches that lie on the ground, victims of the wind and water, harbour untold numbers of wood eating beetle grubs, with bronze tiger beetle being the most impressive and obvious.

The woods are burgeoning with life and in rude health despite their confrontation with up-stream rainfall and I have often wondered what other gems they support that remain unrecorded. At home in Shropshire a walk through riverine woods like these would almost certainly reward with pied flycatcher and the absence of this familiar bird here is consuming me. They nest in the summer months thirty miles up-stream through Richmond and I imagine they follow geographical features like the Swale to return to these nest sites from their African feeding grounds each Spring.

So, I decided I would increase their chances of sticking around (should they indeed pass through) and have erected a dozen nest boxes along the edge of the river. Here they are:

I don't really expect this to be a successful project, but at the very least I can look forward to observing the birds that do take up these boxes. I will try and monitor them with a degree of scientific rigour over the next six months and will report interesting findings here. I predict that they will be occupied as follows: 3 Great Tit, 1 Blue Tit, 1 Coal Tit, 1 Tree Sparrow, 6 empty.

Mistle Thrush, Chaffinches and Hawthorn

The sun shone brighter and longer in recent days and the signs that Spring is wrestling with the pervading chill are increasingly noticeable. Mistle thrush are paired and assembling nests; often the first diurnal bird to do so. Bands of bumbarrelling long-tailed tits number fewer birds as encounters with dancing pairs rise. Chaffinches chant their willow-warbleresque dirge from every tree and hedge-top.

Florally, the first hawthorn blossom hides in warm, sheltered hedgerows. Celandine is out but scruffy, wishing it had waited a week longer and holding its canary petals in tightly to keep warm. A pioneering primrose has broken the surface and flowered in the churchyard, giving a clue to the future of the emerging silver-green plants that surround it.

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