Siren Song

Swanwick Lakes nature reserve used to be a very good spot for nightingales. Unfortunately, mirroring decline that is occurring across the whole of the UK, they have dropped off the radar on the site. This is extremely upsetting as they are one of my top birds but it has been a number of years since they have been recorded on site, so it’s fairly safe to say they are no longer present.

One of the most charismatic singers in the UK bird population, nightingale can be heard in the evening, babbling away within a dense thicket of scrub and is a song like no other. It can get confusing when the song thrushes mimic them (which they do incredibly well) but once you have heard one, it is something that sticks with you and, I think, always exciting to hear.

There does not seem to be any major reason why they disappeared at Swanwick but it may be changing levels of thick scrub, in which they nest, or other slight changes that pushed them away. I could be they just never made it back on migration.

There is plenty of decent habitat there now and we are working on some very specific management to encourage suitable habitat to develop. They need very thick scrub, usually densely packed, young growth of trees like birch or willow. This needs to be combined with a more open woodland that provides feeding opportunities for them. The northeast meadow and the yellow trail is ideal for this.

The ideal habitat type is really nicely described here by the BTO.

You can see that the domed effect is the ideal, with scrubby, youthful growth at the sides and a mature stand in the middle, providing bare ground and lots of invertebrates. This really focuses on the importance of scrub on reserves as it can often be seen as the daemon habitat, one to be swiftly removed when encroaching onto your flower-rich grassland.


perfect Nightingale habitat in a nearby woodland

North East meadow at Swanwick Lakes is wood pasture so it’s a mix of flora rich grassland, changing with the dappled shade of the sparse trees, producing a woodland/grassland blend. There are pockets of scrub around the edges but I am keen to maintain some sporadic patches throughout. These dense little blocks will hopefully provide the perfect nesting opportunities for nightingales but are difficult to produce due to the pressure that we have from deer.

Weirdly deer are a contributing factor to nightingale decline, as well as many other species that rely on dense regrowth within our woodlands – dormice for instance. They browse everything to death and it’s at this time of year that they are most destructive as the plants have little reserves and the succulent new tips that do all the growing are promptly chomped off.

With our nice new scrubby habitat we are now going to tempt them in. The tricky thing with nightingales is that they are very site faithful and the males will return to the same spot year after year. There has been a ringing project in a woodland not too far away from Swanwick which has been monitoring a population for many years. Year on year the same individuals come back to almost exactly the same spot, a magnificent feat seeing as they went all the way to Sub-Saharan Africa and back. If I was illiterate so couldn’t read signs, had no map, GPS, compass, the likelihood of me walking to the northern tip of Scotland and back, ending up in the exact place I started, is fairly remote to say the least!

There is evidence to suggest that young males are attracted to the nocturnal song of established males (which incidentally becomes much richer and diverse the older the get as they learn more tunes). With this in mind I have started playing it through a speaker within the reserve over night. Hopefully a young male will fly over, hear it and investigate. He will hopefully then realise that his site has everything he needs and set up a territory.

Fingers crossed!


The Stunning, The Dull & The Unexpected

Well as ever its been a very busy week so I shall try to keep it brief on the words and heavy on the pictures.

The highlight of the week came in the form of a trip to the Isle of Wight on Friday evening to help Jamie (previous Farlington Reserves Officer) to survey for an extremely rare moth; the Reddish buff. It involved sitting out with several moth traps, until the small hours, waiting for the moth to appear. As expected it turned up around 11.30pm, then later a second. It was great to see the extremely rare moth that only exists on the Isle of Wight and we even had a couple of Barn owl fly-bys as a bonus. The next day we returned to check the traps that had been left to run overnight. Getting to see the reserve in the daylight was great and we spotted Green hairstreak & Grizzled skipper butterflies, Mother shipton moth and heard two Nightingale.

Reddish buff moth

Reddish buff moth – More dull than stunning

Having a couple of hours before the ferry back to the mainland we thought we would see if we could catch a glimpse of the Glanville fritillary (another Isle of Wight speciality). It didn’t take long to find it and it was in great numbers being at the high point in its flight season. It wasn’t only Glanvilles on the site, there was also Wall lizards and Hummingbird hawk-moths in attendance, which was a fantastic finale to the Island trip.

Glanville Fritillary

Glanville Fritillary – more stunning than dull

Hummingbird Hawkmoth

Hummingbird Hawk-moth

Yesterday was the 8th annual Roydon Woods Woodfair. It was well attended by all sorts of woodland craft, local produce and art stalls. Over 1,500 people came to the event and took in the relaxed atmosphere helped along by buckets of sunshine.

Roydon Woodfair

Roydon Woodfair

Chainsaw Carving at the Woodfair

Chainsaw Carving at the Woodfair

Today we were joined by the Beechcroft team at Farlington. Our task was to move some animals in the morning followed by a spot of fencing in the afternoon. Before getting the tools out Steve noticed a Hedgehog curled up in a ball next to the hut door. He didn’t look in great shape so one of our volunteers kindly took him to an wildlife hospital for a check up. It was a shame the little guy wasn’t well but to see one was a personal high point as I’ve not seen an (alive) Hedgehog for a decade or so. Hopefully it will make a full recovery and be back on the marsh in no time.



The second surprise of the day came in the form of a Barn owl, sat on a post in the Slip field. It appeared as if it was roosted up in a hollow, down from the seawall. After a good look at it and after getting a little closer we discovered it was wearing falconry jesses, so was clearly an escaped captive bird. It hung around for half an hour or so, showing off some aerial manoeuvres and then shot off over the a27.

Farlington Barn Owl

Farlington Barn Owl – certainly unexpected