Trip reports

Highnam Woods and Nagshead RSPB reserves

Highnam Woods and Nagshead RSPB reserves
Pied flycatcher at Nagshead - Lyn Ebbs

Sunday, 20 May 2018

On a glorious Spring morning 28 of us set off by coach for the Forest of Dean.
Our first stop was at the Highnam Woods RSPB Reserve, renowned for its breeding nightingales - apparently five singing males were here this year! And, almost immediately, within a hundred metres of the car park, on each of two separate footpaths, we heard a male nightingale sing snatches of its song. Some of us waited for around 10 minutes, but despite being so close, we didn't get a glimpse and moved on. Several song thrushes and blackcaps, with the occasional willow warbler and chiffchaff, made up most of the continual bird song, but the majority remained out of sight in the new leaf cover. One song thrush had clearly been listening to the nightingales and was using some of their phrases in its song. A pair of ravens flew around overhead, 'cronking' continuously, and we eventually discovered why, when some of us spotted one of their recently fledged young, perched in a nearby tree-top. As we left for the Nagshead Reserve, several of our group remarked that the continuous bird song in the Highnam woodland had been an uplifting experience.
Snatches of pied flycatcher song could be heard when we started out along the Long Trail at Nagshead, and it wasn't long before we found a nest box with a pair feeding young. They almost always paused on a nearby small leafy tree branch before flying to the box to either enter or hang onto the edge of the entrance hole to feed the young. It wasn't long before we were able to predict where the adults might land, which helped those in our group photographing them. Further along the trail we could hear an occasional wood warbler's song, but were unable to see them. However, an hour or so later, back in oak woodland after walking through an area of conifers, we heard and then saw one flitting about for some time high up amongst the leaves.
We saw spotted flycatchers earlier and, while passing through a more open shrubby area with isolated trees, several garden warblers. At the ponds next to the Lower Trail bird hide we saw a pair of Mandarin ducks - they were probably nesting in an oak tree beyond it. A pair of redstarts also spent some time here, in and around a nearby dead tree. On the way back towards the Visitor Centre, a slow worm was reluctant to leave the sunny footpath despite being moved to the side a couple of times. We were concerned that it could easily be trodden on, so someone eventually moved it to a safer but still sunny spot amongst grass, well back from the footpath.
We'd seen or heard around 30 different bird species through the day, which on looking back through records of our previous visits was about average for this woodland habitat. But it was the birdsong that made the day.