I spent part of a day in the woods by the Rollright Stones simply walking and looking – indulging in the pleasure of quietly observing, identifying, analysing and categorising what I saw. It is all too easy to pass by without actually seeing what is around us and many signs are missed, but look closer, pay attention, and you can see that this young woodland has a growing community of species that call it home.
The following are just a few of the mammal and bird species we’ve seen so far. There have been many birds, some heard rather than seen, glimpses of deer, mice and voles, a weasel, signs that badgers are about . In some cases, you don’t see the creature itself but the tell tale signs of activity and then you can try to figure out what has happened.
Starting with the larger wildlife, Roe deer are one of the most obvious species in the woods. Three of them spent the winter there, a doe and two young ones, and we have recently seen as many as six in a group, one with short antlers. They are nervous animals and don’t linger if they realise that humans have arrived on the scene. One misty day I saw three of them walk slowly in single file across the field adjacent, stopping every so often before gradually disappearing over the ridge. It was a magical sight and I didn’t break off to get the camera as I wanted to take in the beauty of the scene.
The first sign I noticed of deer in the woods was the small areas they scrape at the base of trees, apparently because they dislike sitting on damp grass or leaves. Often you’ll see three scrapes around a tree, a sign of the group resting together. I kept a watch on these scrapes to check for hairs and, by the end of March, tufts of hair were being left behind, showing that they were starting their spring moult .
Deer are also noticeable by their hoof prints – two long, oval-shaped indentations.
The deer tend to take the same routes through the woods and have worn narrow paths. Following these paths is generally the most direct route if you decide to walk through the trees rather than around them by the path. As there are badgers locally, it is likely that they also use these paths and probably had a shared role in creating them.
One of the more distasteful sightings is badger latrines filled with sloppy droppings. These badgers have clearly not been eating fruit – more likely worms, going by the colour and consistency. It’s good to know that the area has a big enough supply of earthworms to support badgers – it shows the soil is healthy.
There isn’t as much to see in winter as other times of the year, but the presence of grey squirrels is seen by their bark-stripping activities. They do this to get at the sweet phloem tissues just beneath the surface and cause a lot of damage in the process. We don’t often see squirrels, but their barks are heard regularly and we’ve seen a couple of drays (the big round nests that squirrels make in trees).
I don’t know what lives in this hole at the base of a pine tree, but it is small enough for a field vole.
There are many birds in the woods and they sing continuously. For many weeks, we were treated to the company of a flock of overwintering redwings, though these have now migrated back to Scandinavia. Tiny goldcrests were seen and heard during the winter months, flitting in small groups around the conifers in their search for tiny insects. More often, we’d hear their high-pitched ‘Tsee tsee’ calling. They move so fast they are hard to photograph.
Robins are year-round residents and, being opportunistic and bold, keep a watch on all human activities.
Thrushes are not much seen, but we hear their song and regularly come across the stones they use to break snail shells on.
Snails and slugs can be found moving over tree bark on mild days, most often on larch trees and I’ve wondered if the thrushes take them from trees or prefer to find them on the ground.
By mid-April, egg shells are being dropped in the grass by parent birds, who leave them a distance from the nest so as to distract attention from the young ones. This is a blackbird’s egg.
Other birds seen and/or heard include chaffinches, blue and great-tits, wrens, chiff chaffs, green woodpeckers, Corvids of all types, blackbirds, pigeons, pheasants and a pair of Canada geese that nested on an island in a pond on the edge of the woods.
The chance finding of owl pellets at the base of a tree shows some of the creatures that we haven’t seen yet, for they are filled with the bones of small mammals. A search on owl pellets shows them to have been regurgitated by a barn owl and a further search on mammal skulls suggests that this barn owl dined on common rat and, going by the tiny jaw bone in the third picture, possibly mice.
Some birds only leave the signs that they have been predated and just scatterings of feathers remain. They were probably taken by a fox or a sparrowhawk. Below are the feathers of a male pheasant…
…and the iridescent blue feather of an unknown bird, possibly a magpie. It looks like it’s been there some time.
In the following blogs I’ll be showing the wide variety of insects plants, fungi, mosses and lichens that are colonising the woods.
There is a new website with a lot more detail and pictures here – Whispering Knights