A select group of 10 keen and optimistic bird watchers set off on this sunny morning to explore the RSPB reserve in Blean Woods. Being Sunday, bird watchers were outnumbered by dog-walkers and runners, who were also enjoying a day free of the gale force winds that had been with us for the previous week.
We decided the red route would be a good starting point and we followed this for about a mile. We had excellent views of Buzzards displaying & stooping. We heard a number of small birds in the bushes, gorse and scrub which were reluctant to show themselves. We heard our first Chiffchaff of the year. We also heard a Tawny Owl, but we couldn’t see it. A single Redpoll did put on a show for us, feeding in clear sight and we had good views and a debate about whether it was an immature bird, lacking clear red markings on its head.
Wood ants were prominent in several places with thousands climbing over each other in the sun – why do they do this? Plenty of conjecture but no-one had an authoritative opinion.
We returned to the car park for lunch and on the way saw a Kestrel. After lunch we discussed strategies for finding the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, which was to be our target species for the afternoon.
We set off again doing the red trail in reverse and spent some time studying a 7-spot Ladybird that it was thought might be a rarity that can be found in this area. Photos were taken so hopefully a conclusion will have been reached by the time you read this review. By mid-afternoon with no sign of the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, or even Tree Creepers or Nuthatch, we took a shortcut back towards the car park on a quiet unmarked path. There were occasional feeding flocks of small birds and we heard and saw Coal Tit.
Just after this, a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was seen by Malcolm along with a Tree Creeper. Then a second woodpecker was spotted – so we had the pleasure of seeing a pair together. This was a ‘lifer’ for some and the first of the year for many of us. A great spot.
By this time, it was getting late and dark clouds were on the horizon so we made a fairly swift retreat to the cars and even a short hailstorm didn’t dent our enjoyment of the day. In all we saw 21 species and heard 4 more.
Claire & Jim
The ladybird mentioned above was indeed the Scarce 7 spot ladybird. It is very similar to the abundant 7 spot ladybird (3 black spots either side of the mid-line and one at the top of the mid-line).
But the black spots are bigger on the scarce 7 spot. The underside of the two species is also different and we checked this, on the photographs we had taken, when we got home. But what makes the scarce 7 spot special and scarce? Ants will not tolerate ladybirds near them because the ants protect and “farm” aphids (greenfly etc). They therefore drive off ladybirds that would otherwise prey on the aphids. Wood ants are particularly aggressive. But they do not seem to notice the scarce 7 spot ladybird and therefore they do not drive them out of the area. Somehow, the ladybird camouflages itself (perhaps with a chemical smell) and carries on eating the aphids. Neat trick! So the only ladybird species that can survive near the wood ants in Blean Woods are scarce 7 spot ladybirds. But they only live near the ants and not elsewhere. Explain that!
Thanks to Claire and Jim for leading and for writing the report. Thanks to Sally and Sue for the photographs. It was not easy even seeing the lesser spotted woodpecker – so well done Sue for getting the photograph!