As volunteers for RSPB Gloucestershire, my husband and I visit Highnam Woods RSPB Reserve once a week from mid-April to early July to check on breeding success in the nest-boxes on the reserve. Each year our records are sent to the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology), combining with the records from other nest-box checkers from around the country to build up a picture of how species are faring throughout Britain and how their breeding success is changing over the years. I am the one who climbs up and down the ladder 34 times to check the boxes, whilst my husband does the important job of standing at the bottom with a clipboard and pen.
Most of the nest-boxes we check are occupied by Blue Tits and Great Tits but we are delighted that this year, for the first time ever, we have a Nuthatch nest. The glimpse that our volunteering affords into the life of the birds is fascinating. I am always amazed at the speed with which naked, bulgy-eyed, huge-gaped, frankly ugly hatchlings transform into beautiful, fully feathered baby birds, ready to fledge. There is delight at nesting success, and heartbreak when you lift the lid of a box that had been full of demanding chicks the previous week only to find dead nestlings – either due to poor weather meaning that the adults could not find enough food for the chicks, or the death of one or both parents.
Highnam is known as a very muddy reserve, so you can imagine the condition of the paths this year. It is managed for Nightingales, right on the northern edge of their present day range, with now just three singing males on the reserve. When we have finished checking the boxes we sit on the bench where the path turns a corner to eat our lunch. It is a sunny spot so we are surrounded by wildflowers and butterflies. Buzzards wheel overhead and as we sit we listen to the songs of the woodland birds: Blackbird, Chiff-chaff, Song Thrush, Wren, Blackcap, Willow Warbler and yes, sometimes even Nightingale.
In this week’s newsletter there are details of events at which you can get involved with nature locally, surveying and learning more about what species are around. There are also details of events taking place, and a job opportunity. Finally there is a thought-provoking article by one of our members, challenging some of the current thinking on green issues.