Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Northamptonshire's ancient woodlands: hanging onto willow tits..just

The past couple of days I've had some leave and taken the opportunity to explore local sites in Northants in the hope of finding some more willow tits and maybe one or two surprises.

Tues 24 February
I focused the morning on High Wood Wildlife Trust nature reserve near Everdon.  Breezy and cold conditions were not ideal for birding, but this woodland sits in the shelter of a small valley and there was actually plenty of bird activity.  I soon located a pair of marsh tits and a small flock of long-tailed tits.  A treecreeper was feeding busily on the shiny trunks of cherry trees.  Just as I was about to give up hope, a willow tit appeared, calling noisily, posing for a while, then heading off towards the tiny stream.  I also disturbed a sparrowhawk from a half-eaten pigeon.
willow tit in flight, High Wood
The stream, though tiny, is delightfully natural, with marshy patches and small carpets of opposite-leaved golden saxifrage along the banks.  Just one or two plants are already starting to bloom; tiny yellow flowers and glossy green leaves.
opposite-leaved golden saxifrage

this is also a good site for fungi
In Everdon village, a carpet of winter aconites grabs my attention.  These are naturalised, not native, but look great and are thriving.  Snowdrops are seemingly everywhere along the roadsides at the moment.
winter aconites and snowdrops
aconites close-up
In the afternoon, a trip to Halse Copse near Helmdon is less productive for marsh and willow tits (there are none) but I was fortunate to flush a woodcock from the path and had good views of three roe deer and a few brown hares.
hazel catkins, Halse Copse
I also met the farmer on his rounds and he explained that HS2 is coming right through this area, cutting through part of the woodland.  The site was also bioblitzed last year and nearly 1000 species are likely to have been recorded once everything is identified.
Roe deer.  If I'd had my camera at the ready there would have been three!
Weds 25 February
Having been successful at an ancient woodland site yesterday, I decided the try my luck at Badby Wood this morning.  This is the largest area of ancient woodland in the Northants part of the Banbury Ornithological Society area, and much of it is an SSSI - best known locally for an impressive show of bluebells in early May.  It is part of the Fawsley Estate, who allow access to the whole wood, and this means it is also a great place to look for nature.  The Woodland Trust promote access via their website, you just need to park sensitively in Badby as the lanes near the church are very narrow.
This is a really interesting woodland - many of the large trees are oaks and it reminds me a little of the Forest of Dean or Wyre Forest, albeit on a much smaller scale.  Great-spotted woodpeckers are drumming, green woodpeckers yaffling, song thrush singing brightly.  I encounter a flock of tits - coal, long-tailed, blue, great and a pair of marsh.  Further on, a ride cuts across the wood and there is a little more hazel and bramble. 
woodland ride
I feel this might be the place for a willow tit.  And I'm proved right for once: a single bird responds to playback and then continues to feed quietly in the brambles.  Another pair of marsh tits are in the vicinity too, and are more confiding.
marsh tit, Badby Wood
I meet a local man out walking his dog, we chat and he describes a willow tit visiting his feeders in the village a couple of weeks earlier in the cold weather.

After well over two hours exploring, I head off for a coffee, capturing the village and woodland scene from a roadside viewpoint.  The two look intertwined, which is good to see.  Habitat corridors connecting wood and village.
Badby Wood and village
 I continue on to Fawsley itself and stop to watch a flock of goldfinches in roadside alders, there are also a very few redpolls and siskins.  On the main lake: a drake gadwall and a pair of great-crested grebes; a water rail calls from the reedy fringe.  The car thermometer reaches 10 degrees centigrade and after yesterday's chill, it starts to feel like spring is getting closer.

My last stop is at Canons Ashby, not the national trust house, but the lake and woodland nearby.  A footpath leads along the edge of what is a very wet woodland and potentially very good for willow tits.  But I draw a blank.  A little egret is nice to see, plus my only reed bunting of the day. 
little egret

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