As surely as night follows day, the extended Jubilee weekend brought with it rain, cloud and wind. Fortunately Saturday was at least dry and the sky could optimistically be described as bright grey, so we headed north for our yearly fix of oak woodland in mid Wales. The RSPB’s fantastic Dinas reserve was our destination and it immediately started to deliver with the sound of a calling Cuckoo from the car park and a soaring Red Kite overhead. In the small picnic area Emma managed to pick out a young Siskin being fed by its parent, a sight I missed while watching a Great Tit taking food into one of the nearby next boxes.
What really surprised me though were the sheer number of people in the car park. Usually you can expect at most one or two other visitors but this time every space was full. Perhaps they were trying to escape the banality that was the BBC’s Jubilee coverage? Whatever the reason I feared that the influx may have pushed the birds into hiding and so quickly hurried over to the board-walk that stretches through the initial part of the forest. At first it was very quiet with just a couple of Nuthatches and a Willow Warbler putting in an appearance. Things started to look up though as we spotted a singing male Blackcap high in the tree canopy, quickly followed by our first male Pied Flycatcher. Then suddenly the woods came alive with a stunning male Redstart, Dipper, Spotted Flycatcher and at least another two Pied Flycatchers all showing within a couple of minutes of each other. The Redstart looked to be nesting on the far side of the stream with at least two nest boxes occupied by Pied Flycatcher families, whilst a pair of Blackcaps had made home nearer to ground in an area of thick vegetation. Unfortunately they all kept their distance but I did manage to capture this male Pied Flycatcher as it hunted for food.
As we dropped off the board-walk the call of a Wood Warbler reached my ears and was quickly traced to a nearby tree. Remarkably the bird was at roughly eye level but a dog off the lead almost immediately spooked it into flight. Some people really don’t get the concept of a nature reserve do they? Thankfully this male Chaffinch was much less wary and the light filtering through the leaves showed of its colours perfectly.
Along the river itself we spotted another (or the same) Dipper as well as a Peregrine Falcon being chased by two Crows. Wood Warblers continued to sing at regular intervals but remained elusive, something that cannot be said for the caterpillars. Everywhere you looked they were crawling along branches, up trunks or simply floating through the air in their thousands on silk threads. This meant it was nigh on impossible to take more than a few steps without becoming entangled in silk or picking up a few stowaways. This was a particular issue whenever I stepped off the main path to take a photo, and I am still picking up caterpillars today that somehow managed to make it all the way back home with us. Of course their presence is the reason why these woods are so productive, and it was no surprise to see birds with their beaks stuffed full of the juicy critters.
By now we’d battled our way through the constant bombardment and had made it to the other side of the reserve. Here the main river is left behind and once again silence returns to the reserve. Silence that is except for the calls of another two Cuckoo, one of which we managed to see at quite close range, an angry Mistle Thrush and the unmistakeable display call of a Tree Pipit. To my surprise the pipt kept dropping down to a branch not far above head hight which allowed me to get some great photos.
I counted three Tree Pipit’s in all, one of which gave us an excellent parachuting display as it moved from tree to tree. They were by far my best views of the species to date and were in almost exactly the same place as when I first saw them a couple of years ago. There wasn’t chance to bask in our success though as a few meters further on a singing Wood Warbler was being just as showy. Again I was able to move in relatively close with the camera, and despite getting bitten several times by midges I am very pleased with the results.
Having taken my fill an unusual call quickly had us onto a Garden Warbler, a distinctive bird for the very reason that it seems to lack any distinguishing features. In contrast the readily identifiable Great Spotted Woodpecker, Song Thrush, Treecreeper, Goldcrest, Wren, Swift, Swallow, House Martin and even a Canada Goose also made their way onto our list before we returned to the car. Now that’s what I call a successful visit. There were also a couple of distinctive fungi species present including this great example of Chicken of the Woods.
With a few hours left before we needed to return home we decided to head further north to the Elan valley. The steeply wooded hillside above the main visitor centre there has proved to be very productive in the past for many of the same species we’d already seen, with the added bonus that the Pied Flycatchers seem to nest much closer to the footpath. Unfortunately the weather chose not to play ball and drew our day to an early close, but rest assured we will be back.