Over 60 species of bird have been sighted at Watchtree. Species of birds tend to favour a particular habitat with birds including Skylarks, Meadow Pipit and Stonechat often seen near meadows and hedgerows, Curlew, Snipe and Oystercatcher near water and Greater Spotted Woodpecker, Jay and Treecreeper within woodlands. Management aims to increase the number and diversity of bird species through continued management of existing habitats and creation of new ones.
Snipe (Doug Welch)
Spring and Summer
Spring sees the arrival of migratory species; ducks and waders from eastern Europe and Scandinavia in addition to Swifts, Sand Martins and the Warblers that have travelled northwards over Africa, the Mediterranean and southern Europe.
Resident birds, including Robins, Blue Tits, Song Thrush and Dunnocks have no need to migrate to and from warmer climates; instead they feed on berries, nuts, seeds and insects amongst the hedgerows and woodlands. Other species including Curlew, Ringed Plover, Lapwing and Oystercatcher have wintered on coastal areas and moved inland to breed. Watchtree’s extensive meadows have proved particularly popular with Skylarks, a species that finds the short grassland and open aspect of the reserve very much to its liking.
Our new Sand Martin breeding colony, constructed during the winter of 2006/07 and able to accommodate ninety breeding pairs of Sand Martins will hopefully be a major attraction for the birds and general public in future years.
May is generally the month when the majority of birds lay their eggs and soon after chicks are on the move. Some species, particularly those that nest on the ground must search for food for themselves soon after hatching. Those hatching in nests must rely on parent birds catching and then bringing food back for them.
Long grass and tall herbs often conceals many ground nesting bird species. A good place to observe birds is from our dedicated viewing hide overlooking a wetland, fringed by marginal vegetation and grassland. Many wader species also bring their chicks to the waters edge where the soil is soft and full of protein rich invertebrates.
Little Grebe or Dabchick build their nest on a floating raft consisting of aquatic vegetation and make for excellent viewing. This tiny bird often dives so frequently they appear almost spend as much time under the water as they do above.
Little Grebe (Doug Welch)
Tufted Duck and Mute Swan have also successfully raised young at Watchtree. The former raised eleven young in 2006 whilst Mute Swans raised two after a number of year’s unsuccessful breeding attempts.
Numerous species of birds of prey either breed or hunt at Watchtree, these include; Sparrowhawk, Tawny Owl, Barn Owl, Buzzard and Little Owl. The Little Owl, Britain’s only non native owl, breeds in specially designed nest boxes .
Autumn and Winter
Flying Barn Owl (Liz Still)
Prior to their departure back to far away wintering grounds, many birds spend the early part of Autumn feeding on the abundance of insects available at this time of year. This is an important time for birds as the food they consume will be turned into energy needed for the long and often arduous flight. Sand Martins, Swifts, House Martins and Swallows in particular travel huge distances, in the example of the Swallow, down to the southern most part of South Africa and as far as a bird can fly without flying over the Antarctic ice mass.
’Passage’ birds, those birds stopping only briefly on their migration, occasionally drop in to feed and replenish energy supplies. Stopping only briefly means these birds create quite a stir amongst bird watchers. A Pectoral Sandpiper, a species native to North America was sighted at Watchtree in 2005.
Watchtree’s diverse woodland and scrub species provide an abundance of berries in late autumn and winter sustaining not only resident species including Song Thrush and Blackbird but also over wintering species such as Fieldfare and Redwing.