Early this week, a walk in the woods on the Rhug Estate revealed three very special birds, freshly arrived from their immense migratory journey from Africa.
ARRIVALS FROM AFRICA
The Wood Warbler would be easily overlooked if it were not for its unmistakeable song, best described as an accelerating trill. In fact when the bird produces this extraordinary sound the whole body seems involved, with quivering wings and tail. It is a sound which is quintessential to the hilly woodlands of Wales which is one of the strongholds of this species. With relatively little leaf-cover at this time of year it makes the process of spotting the bird easier but with upper-parts much the same colour as the leaves themselves this is never straightforward. Wood Warblers, astonishingly, are ground nesters, tucking their meticulously constructed nest into a well-vegetated bank.
Like the Wood Warbler, the male Pied Flycatcher announces its arrival by singing which is, with all birds, the means by which they attract a mate and repel competitors. Dressed in his black and white livery, he is less of a challenge to see as he produces his rather sweet but oddly syncopated and varied rendition. Studies have shown that the size of the white spots on his forehead are a significant indicator of his virility and Pied Flycatchers are capable of bigamy. Females are browner in colour. They are hole-nesters which is why they like old woodlands but readily use nest boxes. It is hoped that the newly installed boxes at Rhug might be occupied by this charismatic little bird.
Male Pied Flycatcher
Considering their exotic colours Redstarts can easily remain unseen at the tops of trees, once again giving away their presence with a short song, sometimes likened to the rhythm of a car started-motor. This is another hole-nester, preferring a larger entrance and seemingly happier with more scattered trees, old hawthorns being a favourite. Whilst the male exhibits more showy colours including an orange breast, black face and white forehead, both sexes have the bright rusty-orange tail which gives them their name and which they habitually quiver.
These three species are part of a much larger entourage who make the pilgrimage to our woodlands from sub-Saharan Africa. Given our unreliable weather conditions this would seem, perhaps, a pointless journey. Why not simply stay in Africa? The answer to this lies in the fact that the Earth is tilted on its axis, resulting in much long summer days here than on the Equator, favouring a faster production of young and, in some cases, second broods.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Keith Offord has been studying and monitoring bird populations on the Berwyn since 1974. All images and words © Keith Offord