Spring Birds at Sharphill Wood 2018
Sharphill Wood is home to typical birds of deciduous woodland and margins. Resident species are supplemented by a handful of summer visitors. Although birds can be quite difficult to spot in woodland, particularly when trees are in leaf from late April onwards, spring is the time when birds are at their most vocal. Many species use song to establish and defend their territories for breeding. For this reason spring is the best time to survey birds at Sharphill, notwithstanding the fact that a few winter visitors (e.g., Redwing) will be missed. This report is a result of several visits to the Wood between April and June 2018.
Data is based on 5 visits to the Wood from mid-April to mid-June 2018 (16th April, 5th May, 21st May, 3rd June and 18th June). Each visit started at approximately 07.00 and lasted about 2 hours. I was assisted on 3rd June by Chrissie. The same transect was taken on each visit:
- hedgerow approaching northern entrance;
- main path as far as junction with western path;
- western path down to southern gate;
- southern gate towards A52 and then back to south-eastern gate;
- main path back to junction with western path;
- eastern path from northern entrance to south-eastern entrance.
During each visit, locations where avian species were heard or seen were noted on a map. Results from the 5 visits were then combined in an attempt to gain a more complete picture of which birds were present in different parts of the wood, in particular in each of the 5 zones defined in the management plan. Birds within the wood or in close proximity to the wood were recorded.
The methodology is not precise. Some species have quieter or less distinct songs or calls than other species, and therefore some species are almost certainly under recorded. Also a single bird can move around, and it is a matter of judgement whether observations from two or more nearby locations represent the same bird or a different bird. Moreover, it is generally only the male that sings, and although females may call, calls are often less distinct or more subject to confusion than songs. For most species, the presence of a singing male is assumed to represent a pair.
Because the transect was confined to paths, quieter species in areas well away from paths (in particular, the central part of zone 3) were likely to have been missed.
Allocation to zones is necessarily imprecise because of movement of birds. In particular, many birds were recorded along the central path on the long border between zones 3 and 4, and it is inevitable that those birds will frequently cross the path. Therefore allocation to zones in such cases is rather arbitrary.
Throughout the entire period of the survey, most bird species that use song were indeed singing, although singing tends to drop off slightly beyond the middle of May. For this reason it was not considered worthwhile continuing surveys beyond the middle of June. The first survey, in mid-April, was perhaps too early for some summer visitors, although most of the species in the wood had arrived by then and had started singing.
Results by species.
The following is a list of species encountered during the survey visits, as well as other species encountered on site at other times and therefore perhaps noticeable by their absence. Species are listed in taxonomic order, in accordance with the British List published by the British Ornithologists’ Union, which in turn is based on the taxonomy used by the International Ornithological Congress.
Birds of Prey
Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo). Recorded only once during survey visits (over field next to northern entrance), but fairly common in the area and frequently seen or heard over the site in the recent past.
Pigeons and Doves
Stock Dove (Columba oenas). Heard on each visit, in particular towards the southern end of the main path (zones 3 and 4), but also further north in zones 3 and 4 and occasionally in zone 2 and zone 5. Confined to canopy and difficult to see. Probably at least 2 pairs.
Woodpigeon (Columba palumbus). Heard and seen regularly in various places throughout the Wood and surrounding areas. No estimate of numbers.
Common Swift (Apus apus). Seen over fields to north-east of Wood on one visit.
Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major). Heard drumming in zone 2 and northern end of zone 4. Also a sighting in zone 3 near central path. Probably just a single pair.
Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis). Heard calling on each visit, sometimes at southern end of zones 3 and 4, and sometimes further north in those zones and in zone 2. Possibly 2 pairs.
Eurasian Jay (Garrulus glandarius). Observed in zone 1, zone 2 and the northern end of zone 3.
Magpie (Pica pica). Sometimes observed around northern and eastern boundary (zones 2 and 4).
Jackdaw (Coloeus monedula). Often seen in the vicinity but not recorded during the survey visits.
Carrion Crow (Corvus corone). Generally present and recorded in various places during survey visits.
Coal Tit (Periparus ater). Pair seen on first two visits along north-eastern edge of zone 2.
Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus). Widespread. Observations (including observations from nest box monitoring) suggested about 12 pairs in the Wood, but this density (a little over 1 pair per hectare) is lower than might be expected in deciduous woodland with a reasonable supply of food and nesting sites. Song and call are not particularly loud, so birds away from paths or high up in the canopy might not be heard. Some calls are similar to those of Great Tit, so calls that could not be attributed to a particular species were disregarded. Also, being a resident, this species establishes nests in April and singing diminishes after that. Distribution is fairly uniform, with fewer in zone 1.
Nest box inspections revealed 2 successful nests in zone 5 and 2 in zone 3. Note that inspectable nest boxes were in zone 5 and the southern end of zones 3 and 4 only. Of the older non-inspectable nest boxes further north, a family of Blue Tit were seen using one at the northern end of zone 4, and it is possible others were used too.
Great Tit (Parus major). Widespread. Observations (including observations from nest box monitoring) suggested about 12 pairs in the Wood, but this density (a little over 1 pair per hectare) is lower than might be expected in deciduous woodland with a reasonable supply of food and nesting sites. Reasons why this species might be under-recorded are similar to those for Blue Tit (except that the song is more distinct). Distribution is fairly uniform, with fewer in zone 1.
Nest box inspections revealed 3 successful nests in zone 3 and 1 in zone 4. Note that inspectable nest boxes were in zone 5 and the southern end of zones 3 and 4 only, and it is possible older nest boxes further north were used too.
Skylark (Alauda arvensis). A singing male on the fields just to the north of the Wood on most survey visits.
Swallows and Martins
Swallow (Hirundo rustica). Not seen in vicinity during any of the survey visits, although occasionally seen over the surrounding fields in the past.
Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus). Recorded twice, at the northern end of zone 3 and the southern end of zone 4).
Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita). Singing males heard in zones 3, 4 and 5, but mostly in zone 3. Probably 3 or more pairs.
Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla). Singing males heard in all zones except zone 1, particularly zones 3 and 4. Probably 5 or more pairs.
Garden Warbler (Sylvia borin). Not recorded this spring, but has been observed in the past.
Whitethroat (Sylvia communis). Singing male heard in the hedgerow along the south-eastern boundary (adjacent to zone 5).
Goldcrest (Regulus regulus). Not recorded during the survey, but most previous observations have been during autumn and winter.
Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes). Abundant and widespread. Probably at least 22 pairs evenly distributed, but perhaps slightly lower density in zones 1 and 5.
Nuthatch (Sitta europaea). Not recorded during survey visits, although seen or heard fairly regularly in the past.
Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris). One seen at the northern end of zone 3 on the final visit. Although the quiet call and song of this species makes it very difficult to hear and can lead to under-recording, it is unlikely that the site supports more than 1 or 2 pairs.
Blackbird (Turdus merula). Approx. 8 pairs, recorded in all zones except zone 1.
Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos). Singing male heard in all zones on various occasions. However, the song carries a long way, and therefore pin-pointing source is imprecise. It is probably reasonable to conclude there are at least 2 pairs, 1 in the north (moving around in zones 1, 2 and the northern end of zones 3 and 4) and 1 in the south (moving around in zone 5 and the southern end of zones 3 and 4).
Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus). No recorded this spring, but has been seen and heard in the past.
Robin (Erithacus rubecula). Probably about 8 pairs fairly evenly distributed across all zones.
Dunnock (Prunella modularis). Recorded only once, at the southern end of zone 3. Possibly under-recorded.
Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs). Common and widespread. Probably at least 13 pairs across all zones, including one outside the southern gate.
Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula). Recorded once, near the north of zone 2.
Greenfinch (Chloris chloris). Recorded once, on the zone 2 / zone 4 border.
Linnet (Linaria cannabina). A singing male, and sometimes also a female, seen south of the southern gate on most visits.
Yellowhammer (Emberiza citronella). Not recorded during survey visits, but has been observed in the past on hedgerow leading away from the Wheatcroft entrance.
This was the first year that such a survey has been conducted. It gives a broad picture of birds present at the site during the breeding season, although any estimates of numbers of pairs are just estimates and could differ significantly from reality.
The most common small birds for which estimates of breeding pairs can be made were Wren, Chaffinch, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Blackbird and Robin, with a few Stock Dove, Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Song Thrush. No attempt was made to count corvids or Woodpigeons. Some other species were recorded in low numbers, probably indicative of breeding, including Great Spotted Woodpecker, Green Woodpecker, Common Whitethroat, Long-tailed tit, Treecreeper, Dunnock, Bullfinch, Greenfinch , Skylark (outside the wood) and Linnet (just outside the wood). Other birds seen around or over the wood but probably not breeding there included Common Buzzard and Swallow. A few species seen in the past but not recorded this spring included Garden Warbler, Nuthatch, Mistle Thrush and Yellowhammer.
Birds were spread fairly evenly over the 5 zones, although zone 1 perhaps had a lower density of birds.
If the survey is repeated next year, it would be advisable to start at the beginning of April. This gives an extra visit before trees come into leaf, and also another chance to hear singing resident species such as Blue Tit and Great Tit while they are still establishing territories.
John, on behalf of Friends of Sharphill Wood