We are just at the beginning of the best time to see our key woodland species, knowing a little bit about the habitats these birds use and their behaviour can be the key to getting to see them. Below I will go through some of the best places to spot one of our key species and how to give yourself the best chance of memorable encounter. Pied Flycatcher’s are the species a lot of people come to Ynys-hir wanting to see, here’s a bit of advice on seeing these beautiful small birds.
Pied Flycatcher’s are a small bird, slightly smaller than a sparrow, the males are black and white with two white dots above their beak and the females are brown and white. They are busy birds, often moving quickly between perches, however they will sometimes perch for longer and can provide great views and photo opportunities.
Pied Flycatcher’s are a species associated with open canopy, predominantly Oak woodland, they prefer an open understory (woodland ground level vegetation) with lots of access to the ground. Early in the season, before the caterpillars are abundant on the Oak leaves they feed a lot by picking small invertebrates from the ground. Access to the ground is also vital when there is heavy rain in the spring, this rain can knock caterpillars (their main food source) from the leaves which requires the Pied Flycatcher’s to go foraging for them at ground level. Despite their name they don’t actually catch that many flies on the wing when in Britain, they will do it on and off later in the season but this flycatching behaviour has been seen much more on their migration staging areas and wintering grounds in sub-saharan Africa.
How to see them
Listening for these birds can give you a better opportunity of seeing them but their song is quite subtle, it took me a long time to learn and to distinguish from all the other birdsong in the woods. If you don’t know the song then there are other ways to get a look at these beautiful birds.
It is important to remember that Pied Flycatcher’s are birds of woodland edge, fringe habitats allow access to open areas for feeding, so standing in an open area at the edge of the woodland is a where you want to be. The Blue route at Ynys-hir takes you through a series of these edge habitats and is often where visitors get best views of Pied Flycatchers.
Helpfully these small birds have a real preference for nest boxes, we have lots of these boxes dotted round the woodlands, if you see a nest box then it is worth taking a moment to see if anything is hanging around it, if you’re lucky then it will be occupied by a Pied Flycatcher. Please remember not to get too close, if you observe from a distance you are far more likely to see some interesting behaviour.
Finally, and this by far the most important piece of advice I can give you – stop and be still, don’t talk or think or move around, just be still and quiet and observe. If you put yourself in the right habitat and you stay nice and quiet and wait then things will start happening around you. Just because you don’t see anything doesn’t mean they aren’t there, often your presence will have spooked the birds and given time they will begin to settle back down and get braver. All our trails are loops but that doesn’t you mean you have to walk all the way round them, there are plenty of benches and tree stumps around the reserve, no one is going to stop you sitting under a tree and watching the world go by. Watching wildlife is a mixture between a bit of knowledge, a lot of patience and blind luck, there’s nothing you can do about luck but the other two are in your hands.
The good thing is that all of the above also applies to one of our other migrants, the redstart, these birds share the same sort of habitat so keep your eyes out for a flash of red when looking for Pied Flycatchers.
Why not join our Wardens on our Dawn Chorus event on the 12th May where you will have their expert advice on hand. Click on the link below for booking information or ring 01654 700222.