Our woodland campsites are great places for birdwatching breaks. If you are a keen birder, twitcher or birdwatcher, then camping in the woods represents a great opportunity to spot some common and some rare birds.
The recent appointment of our new wardens for the 2015 camping season at Wild Boar Wood Campsite, Amy and Pete, had me reading through some of the ecological assessment work. We have had a number of surveys carried out in connection with our campsite in Sussex. Pete has a very keen interest in birdlife, as well as camping – so I forwarded him the Breeding Bird Survey we had commissioned in 2013. Campers who visit us on birdwatching breaks should talk to the wardens as they live on site andmight be able to point out places you are likely to spot birds and can advise on recent sightings.
The bird survey identifies the birds that are breeding in our campsite and underlines the fact that spring is a great time to camp in the woodland if you want to observe breeding birds – it’s the perfect time for birdwatching breaks. Within our Wild Boar Wood Campsite, nearby hedgerows and fields this time of year we have had the following impressive list of birds recorded; kestrel, carrion crow, jackdaw, tawny owl, blackcap,wren, chaffinch, mallard, pheasant, woodpigeon, tawny owl, green woodpecker , great spotted woodpecker, song thrush, blackbird, robin, chaffinch, jay, blue tit, great tit, dunnock, hobby, cuckoo, whitethroat, and yellowhammer
At least 25 breeding birds in our around our campsite – which also included these Birds of Conservation Concern (BOCC); green woodpecker (amber-listed BOCC), song thrush (red-listed BOCC), dunnock (amber-listed BOCC), cuckoo (red-listed, BOCC, BAP), whitethroat (amber-listed BOCC) and yellowhammer (red-listed BOCC).
The Breeding Bird Survey forms part of our ongoing commitment to Wild Boar Wood Campsite and the preservation of the surrounding woodland and the native flora and fauna. The Breeding Bird Survey of the campsite was carried out by the ornithologist, Clive Poole, who has worked on projects at Ashdown Forest, and came highly recommended by one of their rangers. The Survey was worthwhile process to ensure, whilst we and our guests are camping in the woods, we are continuously looking at the ecology of Wild Boar Wood, how we can best preserve it’s diversity and support the bird population living within it. With some sensible management, campers and bird populations are able to live together and thrive.
I thought birdwatchers who enjoy camping, or more serious ornithologists with a love of camping, might enjoy the contents of the report. I’ve included it’s main points below (but left out things like the methodology).
CLIVE POOLE – ORNITHOLOGIST -BREEDING BIRD SURVEY OF WILD BOAR WOOD – MAY 2013
The main bird breeding season in the south of England commences in April and finishes by the end of June. By undertaking the survey in mid-May, it is possible to record most of the migrant breeding bird species, in addition to UK resident breeders.
Diurnal bird species are most active in early morning, so the main survey was undertaken between 07.30 and 09.00 hours. A second survey was required to establish the presence of crepuscular and nocturnal breeding bird species.
The habitat of WBW comprises mixed deciduous woodland, primarily Hornbeam (previously coppiced) and Oak. There is some Hazel, Ash, Birch and Cherry. Alder is present around the wet, central part of the woodland. On my May visit a considerable area of the ground was carpeted with bluebells. The understorey of the central part is fairly sparse, especially in the extensive boggy areas.
This habitat looks suitable for breeding Woodcock (a crepuscular, uncommon wading bird, roosting in daytime in damp woodland). In the central part of the wood are several dead or dying trees, with considerable evidence of woodpecker holes, indicating good feeding habitat. There are Holly bushes present, mainly near the wood edges (suitable for breeding Blackcap).
The southern boundary, below pylon cables, has woody scrubland – a good nesting habitat for some warbler species, especially.
A comprehensive ecological assessment of the wood has been undertaken by Dolphin Ecological Surveys in 2011, on which I have partly relied.
EVIDENCE OF ADDITIONAL FAUNA – MAMMALS
Rabbit is present – a potential prey species for Buzzard. Several rabbit holes with nearby fresh droppings were noted near the southern perimeter. Bat species and Fox are also understood to hunt in the wood.
FIRST SURVEY – DIURNAL VISIT 11.5.2013
PERIMETER OF WOOD AND HEDGEROW FIELD BOUNDARIES AND WOODLAND WITHIN 150 M. OF WILD BOAR WOOD
Hobby – flying across nearby field 1
Cuckoo (red-listed, BOCC, BAP) – nearby copse 1
Whitethroat (amber-listed BOCC) 1
Yellowhammer (red-listed BOCC) 1
Sub-total – 4 –
N.B. This will be an under-estimate of passerine species present here (see below).
A total of 48 pairs of birds were estimated to be breeding in WBW, as below.
Mallard (probable) 1
Green Woodpecker (amber-listed BOCC) 1
Great Spotted Woodpecker 2
Carrion Crow 1
Blue Tit 3
Great Tit 2
Song Thrush (red-listed BOCC) 1
Dunnock (amber-listed BOCC) 1
Total estimated breeding pairs 52
Overall number of diurnal bird species estimated to be reliant on WBW and adjacent fields is in excess of 22.
N.B. The hedgerow field boundaries were not fully surveyed, but would be likely to hold additional pairs/species.
KEY BOCC = Birds of Conservation Concern; BAP = Biodiversity Action Plan – priority species
Conclusions of diurnal survey
- The main wood has a relative abundance of breeding birds, due to the variety of tree species and plant understorey, and the variety of habitats – in particular, wet woodland bog near the shaded centre and sunny scrubland to the south close to the pylons. Song Thrush, Green Woodpecker and Dunnock are probable breeders here.
- WBW forms part of a larger mosaic of woods, copses, hedgerows and fields. Cuckoo is present in the immediate vicinity and may use the wood. Hobby (nationally rare raptor) hunts the area and Whitethroat and Yellowhammer are probable breeders in hedgerows surrounding the campsite fields.
- The presence of considerable amounts of dead wood on the ground and standing dead trees is clearly an attractive food source for some species e.g. Great Spotted and Green Woodpecker and Nuthatch. Evidence of excavation of holes in dead trees was noted. There is a potential here for breeding Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (red-listed).
- The existence of scrubland in the south, undergrowth on boundary banks and holly bushes will be attractive to species nesting at low level e.g. Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Dunnock.
- The presence of mature Alder is a potential winter food source for finches – Lesser Redpoll (red-listed) and Siskin.
SECOND SURVEY – CREPUSCULAR/NOCTURNAL 16.5.2013
PERIMETER OF WOOD AND HEDGEROW FIELD BOUNDARIES WITHIN 150 M. OF WBW
Carrion Crow 2
Tawny Owl – male 1
Blackcap – male 1
Tawny Owl – male 1
Green Woodpecker 1
Great Spotted Woodpecker 2
Song Thrush – males 2
Robin – males 10
Conclusions of crepuscular/nocturnal survey
- It is not possible to establish the reasons for the absence of Woodcock. There are extensive boggy areas in the wood as well as standing water in a central hollow. Woodcock is the only UK wading species using woodland to roost. The habitat in the wood was considered suitable since there were also areas of undergrowth in the wood and scrubland on the southern perimeter. Disturbance from the campsite in this or earlier years could account for the absence of this species. However, I understand that the British Trust for Ornithology have found, in previous years’ surveys, that breeding Woodcock in Sussex were almost exclusively recorded on and immediately around Ashdown Forest – an area with a mosaic of woodland and heathland.
- Tawny owl was heard hooting in WBW and also from the adjacent copses. The presence of at least one pair of Tawny Owls is certain – indicative of a good population of mouse/vole species, Tawny Owls’ main prey being mammals, not birds.
- The presence of Tawny Owl indicates that the current level of human disturbance in the wood is tolerable.
- Kestrel observed returning to roost in a nearby copse underlines the presence of the above level of mouse/vole species in the immediate vicinity. Kestrels also feed almost exclusively on mammals.
- No Little Owls were recorded. Tawny Owls are dominant over Little Owls and sometimes kill them, so their absence was to be expected.
- The felling/removal of dying/dead mature trees on Health and Safety grounds, because people are using the wood should absolutely be avoided. One of the principal values of WBW for biodiversity is the presence of standing dead wood and dying trees. If necessary, a warning notice could be displayed in the camp.
- Dogs should be prohibited, due to their damage to ground vegetation e.g. bluebells, disturbance to ground nesting birds (especially warblers such as Chiffchaff), disturbance to ground roosting birds, potentially Woodcock, and to mammals.
- Hornbeam should be allowed to grow to maturity, rather than being coppiced because the seeds are a major food source for Hawfinch – a potential breeder (red-listed).
- Wild Cherry is present and this is also a food source for Hawfinch, so further planting of this species should be encouraged.
- Bird boxes should be erected at heights above 4 metres – close fronted, with holes for tits (in the densely wooded areas) – open fronted and situated in the northernglade for potential Spotted Flycatcher (red-listed) along with, perhaps, two larger boxes for owls.
- The new hedge – which has been planted between WBW and the copse less than 100 m. to the northeast should be expanded in width by supplement of a second row of trees and shrubs. It is gratifying to see that the recommendations made by Dolphin Ecological Surveys in their Ecological Assessment 2011 (page 9) have been implemented. This hedge will create a wildlife corridor in due course, linking the 2 woods, which is very encouraging. This work should be built upon by widening of the hedgerow – further planting of native species, perhaps field maple, hawthorn, hazel and 2 or 3 large tree saplings e.g. oak. A widened hedgerow, to say 3 m., would have considerable additional wildlife benefits in future years – a wider “corridor” will increase biodiversity in WBW. Whitethroat and Yellowhammer would be attracted in greater numbers, together potentially with Dormouse.
To book birdwatching breaks you can head straight to the booking page for Wild Boar Wood or Beech Estate Woodland Campsite or call the Pegs and Pitches Campsite office on 01273 980218 to discuss your requirements.