Long-tailed tits and buzzard nests

The flock of long-tailed tits fed among the dead bracken

The flock of long-tailed tits fed among the dead bracken

One of three buzzard nests in the wood

One of three buzzard nests in the wood

A further account of my 2011/12 wildlife crime survey on a north Perthshire estate – Part 1 of 13 Feb 2012.

 

Monday 13 February 2012.  Weather: Mild for the time of year (around 11 degrees.) Some sunny spells but the north-west wind picked up during the day, unfortunately becoming quite strong by 1.00 pm.

The spring-like weather is trying to lull me into a false sense that winter has passed. I doubt it. February and March can often bring heavy snow, but I am prepared to enjoy the moment and take advantage of the welcome but unseasonable mildness of the day. I intend to have a walk in a large oak wood named Ranent, one where I have only skirted the edges so far. Ranent runs on the west side from the public road to just over halfway up the estate drive, and extends eastwards to the neighbouring boundary. An extension of the same wood continues on the neighbour’s side of the march dyke.

I parked at the farm and began walking back down the estate road to begin my walk at the bottom of Ranent. As I reached the dam at the end of the estate loch I could hear a great tit singing in some willows on the banks of the burn running from the loch. Its song, resembling tea-cher, tea-cher, tea-cher, has been etched in my mind ever since we were given as a present a china great tit replica which we put in the conservatory. Every time the invisible beam coming from the bird was activated by someone passing it, it voiced this very presentable imitation of its song. Alas it has since become mute after its battery ran out and now sits observing passers-by without comment. The (live) great tit’s song was joined by that of a more distant mistle thrush. This song was similar to that of a blackbird but with shorter bursts of song and longer pauses between the phrases (or in musical terms since we are talking of birdsong, between bars.) I often have to listen carefully when I hear a mistle thrush to ensure the sound is not emanating from my wheezing after exertion, easily confirmed if I can still hear the sound and I am holding my breath!

I entered Ranent just short of the fence dividing the wood from the narrow field between it and the public road. Most of the trees are mature oaks, though tall and slim because of close planting. Some, for whatever reason, had a much thinner trunk originating from the same root. Some of these weakling secondary trunks had died and the rotting wood was clearly a great source of insects for woodland birds. This became evident very quickly as blue tits, coal tits and great tits seemed to be everywhere. Though it took me a long time to see such a common bird as a blue tit on this estate there were certainly plenty here. The birds were feeding on the ground amongst the ferns, on the tree trunks and also on the branches. One wee coat tit was visiting a number of young buds on a thin, outer oak branch and picking at the ends. I’d no idea whether its target might have been insects or something in or from the bud but it had found a niche that it was exploiting to the full.

Not only were there the more common tits, but further along I encountered a small flock of long-tailed tits. There were about 10 in the group, though they never stayed still long enough for me to get an accurate count. They were feeding amongst the dead bracken, sometimes almost impossible to see; other times perched on the top of a glistening brown frond. They really are the most delightful birds: almost wee round pink and black balls with a long tail attached. I sat on the trunk of a fallen oak and watched them for fully ten minutes before they eventually moved too far away. They must rank amongst my favourites.

Coming back to reality it was depressing to see that quite a number of oaks had been blown down; some in this winter’s severe storms, and some during earlier years. Taking a very short term view this was a disaster. Taking a medium term view the broken branches and uprooted trees would rot, providing even more invertebrates as food, and additional nesting places in the upturned roots and the extra ground cover now provided.  Trees broken but still standing had now many more nesting hollows and splits, especially for birds such as tree creepers, which often creep (as their names suggests) up under cracked bark. In the longer term, the fact that chunks of the canopy have been removed will permit more light into these clearings to allow natural (or even human-assisted) regeneration. Having thought about this I felt a bit better.

This was the wood in which the red kites successfully nested the previous year. In total I saw three large nests high in the oaks but nothing to indicate any of them had been the red kite’s nest. Usually red kites decorate their nest with something plastic and often colourful, but these looked plain, unadorned nests, and unless any decoration had blown away, were probably those of buzzards. Buzzards were almost continually overhead while I was in the wood, probably two different pairs, though there was neither sign nor sound of kites (indeed for the whole of the day.) Hopefully they will return to nest here this spring.

 

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