In the spring of 2013 I made several early morning visits to the Trust land, armed with binoculars and large-scale map extracts, in order to plot the presence of breeding birds. As the season proceeded, it became (fairly) clear which individuals were permanent residents and where their territories were centred, which were just passing through and, most frustratingly, those which popped up now and again.
While the presence of territorial males came mostly from song, I was also noting evidence which would confirm breeding: the carrying of nest material, birds visiting an apparent nest-site, the carrying of food or the presence of recently-fledged young. This followed the procedure of the BTO Breeding Bird Atlas. To avoid disturbance, I made no special efforts to seek out the nests themselves.
Each visit’s map ended up crowded with information, the summative map confusingly so but in the end I had a reasonable idea of the birds involved and their respective numbers. About 25 species definitely bred, a few more probably and then there were several species which regularly fed on or sang from Trust land but appeared to nest in adjoining gardens.
As you might expect, common birds such as Blackbird, Chaffinch, Woodpigeon, Dunnock & Wren made up the bulk of the breeding population though a surprise was the relatively small number of Robins – perhaps not enough dense, low scrub? They were outnumbered by Reed Warblers, though these are at half their former density, thanks to loss of reed along the canal. Song Thrushes, declining in many parts of the UK, were well represented. They sang from the tops of the blackthorn scrub and probably foraged for snails in its depths.
Along the canal, the predictable Moorhens & Mallards were joined by single pairs of Tufted Ducks & Coots, while the strangled squeal of a Water Rail was heard from reeds on a couple of occasions.
Breeding summer visitors included Chiffchaffs, Sedge & Reed Warblers, Blackcaps, Common & Lesser Whitethroats and, on one date, a Cuckoo. Cetti’s Warbler, a bird which first nested in the UK in 1972, has done so on the Trust land for several years and was singing strongly on the first two visits but then disappeared.
Following the clearance of some blocks of blackthorn there are patches of ground devoid of nesting habitat for this season, so I would expect numbers to be down in 2014. With the increase in variety of nest-sites and greater production of their seed and insect food, however, numbers and variety of breeding birds should quickly recover.