Bristol Ornithological Club
May 19 2017

Friday 19 May – Highnam Woods

Storm clouds were gathering as we drove towards Gloucester but we missed the rain. 20 members met on a still, fine evening. A Nightingale was singing metres away as we pulled into the car park, joined by a second in the distance. Hannah Booth from Gloucester RSPB had serious competition from two Song Thrushes as she introduced the walk. Hannah led us on a circuit interspersed with presentations on the ecology of the woodland and the management plan to enhance the habitat for Nightingale at the western edge of its range. Along the first path we heard Chiffchaff, Robin, Wren, Great Tit, and Blackcap. We paused by a two hectare “coup” of coppice as Swifts flew over, Raven ‘cronked’, and there were short bursts from another Nightingale. Coppice, not dense scrub, is the Nightingale’s favoured habitat. The RSPB creates coppiced coups, removing large standard trees to open the canopy. New growth needs protection from Muntjac deer and each coup is surrounded by a thick barrier of cut branches knitted together by bramble. The RSPB bought the 120-hectare wood, predominantly oak and ash, in 1984. Highnam had been a commercial woodland and the scrub and regrowth supported good numbers of Nightingales. There were 20 singing males in 2001, but falling to six in 2012. There were 13 in 2013, but eight in 2016, consistent with the national 50% fall in Nightingale numbers in the last 30 years. As we progressed we heard more Song Thrushes; our evening total was eleven, a third of the reserve’s singing males. Blackbird, Dunnock, Greenfinch, and Chaffinch were added to the list. One third of the wood is intensively managed, including the wide rides which support butterflies and native flowers. Hannah showed us the rare Tintern Spurge, encouraged by heavy machinery disturbing the ground. We passed under a rope across the ride, a bridge for dormice. Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, elusive on this visit, favour the undisturbed part of the wood, with some trees up to 200 years old. We did however have both Great Spotted and Green Woodpecker. We heard another Nightingale near a boggy area newly created, by damming ditches, to encourage invertebrates. Some ash trees were less happy with the wet conditions and were dying, good news for the woodpeckers. A Goldcrest and a Coal Tit were heard on the final leg of our walk. We returned to the original coup as the Song Thrushes fell silent.
We were rewarded by two Nightingales beginning a night of competitive singing providing an atmospheric end to an excellent and informative evening. We totted up nine singing Nightingales, although none were seen. Many thanks to Hannah Booth for giving us so much of her time. (Hannah stayed on for a night survey and two more singing males were located, bringing the reserve’s total this year to eleven). Thanks also to Nick Hawkridge for keeping the bird list, a total of 21 species. (Thanks to Gareth for leading and writing the report. Editor).
Gareth Roberts

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