A partnership between the Woodland Trust and the National Trust

Fingle Bird Survey – part 1

Time for the Birds

For the third year in a row the Fingle breeding bird survey has been completed by local naturalist, Rob Macklin. Meeting him at the gate near Mardon Down on the final day of his 2016 study he explained how the birds have been faring through a spring time of changeable conditions. Walking into the wood we were greeted by the call of a chaffinch, then Rob spotted a whitethroat which were both quickly recorded. He explained that “this open scrub is one of the best spots in the whole woodland complex. Some of the most interesting and scarce birds have been found here over the last few years”.
The scrub on the woodland edge attracts birds like the linnet and garden warbler which are not found in many places. The small trees dotted about in the open spaces are where the birds perch, but the gappy patchwork of gorse and bramble bushes is ideal habitat for feeding and nesting. The results of the survey back this up too. Rob spoke excitedly of yellowhammers and willow warblers which rely on these scrubby areas, even though it is at the highest part of the wood. He said “scrub is so often and undervalued habitat”.

Scrubby landscape: small trees, bracken and bramble with open grassy areas are alive with insects that provide food for small birds

Scrubby landscape: small trees, bracken and bramble with open grassy areas are alive with insects that provide food for small birds

Further down the hill the dense Douglas fir stood, conspicuous by its silence. “The birds don’t tend to go in there” said Rob, “but the coal tits and goldcrests like the edges of the conifers”. He continued to explain how their numbers might reduce when the conifers are removed. This shows the need to maintain a patchwork of habitats to suit a variety wildlife. To boost future bird populations Fingle will be carefully managed in the coming years, influenced in a big way by this real life data provided by all the ecologists and monitors of the various species of the woods.

Red admiral: open sunny spots are enjoyed by many invertebrates

Red admiral: open sunny spots are enjoyed by many invertebrates

Turning back to walk up the hill Rob continued to summarise some of his most interesting findings during the spring. “The pied flycatchers have done well and the redstarts have doubled their number up to six pairs. Great spotted woodpeckers are also doing very well. They have spread right throughout the wood now … and there are two pairs of lesser spotted woodpeckers, which is great news because there were none found last year.”
He also reported that dippers have been seen with young along the river Teign and one of the most interesting discoveries was the tree pipits that moved into Hall’s Cleave after the larch was clear felled. They have a similar parachuting flight to the meadow pipit but perch in the scattered trees remaining now the diseased larch has been removed.

Occasional oaks stand after the larch was clear felled [P Moody]

Occasional oaks stand after the larch was clear felled [P Moody]


Any more clear-felling is unlikely at Fingle now and the gradual thinning of conifers will continue as planned, to allow the broadleaved woods to regenerate. Rob predicts that “outside the dense conifers, there is a good reservoir of birds waiting to move in”. This type of accurate data will be studied for years to show how successful the restoration of Fingle Woods will be …. Time will tell.

by Matt Parkins

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