13th June 2018

There have been torrential storms this week and I have sad news; the spotted flycatcher’s nest has been destroyed. I hope that the chicks were able to fledge before it collapsed from the side of the tree, and I think that they have already gone because there has been no sign of either parents or young for the last few days. I am keeping my hopes up that they have survived. Following this disappointment this morning I thought it would be hard to sit for an hour and watch basically an empty glade, whereas four days ago it was filled with such activity and excitement.

I’m planning to make a few open fronted nest boxes and positioning them in my sit~spot area just to give the birds a slightly more favourable chance of laying a second brood of eggs this spring, as the original nest was so very fragile (just a piece of bark that was still attached to a dead tree shown above), which makes me think that perhaps the parents were inexperienced, as I am sure the nest was getting more and more waterlogged as the storms continued – making it heavier each day and that is what finally made it collapse. I can’t really believe that these birds lay eggs in such vulnerable nests. It was so easy to spot, so open to the elements and obvious to predators and the two parents were so noisy in their initial defence of it.

So, I after I discovered the collapse, I was really disheartened to carry on and stay for an hour in my sit~spot practice. I had to remind myself that the collapse of the nest was just part of the natural process of the wood and that other things would take its place and more chicks would be fledging and making their way out into the world. I didn’t have too long to wait to see evidence of this as I heard almost immediately a continued chirr-tweet coming from the undergrowth and I was able to pick out a baby blackbird siting on top of a pile of fallen brushwood. There had been quite a lot of uneasy adult blackbird activity whilst I had been there; low fly-bys and agitated alarms going on and I realised why – the adults were defending the baby who was obviously still helpless and vulnerable.

But he was also so cute! He sat up on a twig and waited and waited, chirping a little once in a while. He was very small, his tail feathers had not yet grown and he was finding it very hard to manoeuvre around as he tried to get higher and higher to get a better view of his parents who were still swooping by, caterwauling as they went. They were very frustrated with me but I figured that it was okay to sit and watch for a little longer as the baby was coming to no harm. He had such a grumpy expression and just sat in the same place and waited for something to happen.

Eventually dad blackbird flew in low and hopped closer and closer to the baby, so he could feed it. By then the fledgling was so desperate that he feel of his perch in an attempt to get to his dad anyway he could. It was then that he disappeared from view, thank goodness – out of imminent danger. I realised then, that all the squawking and agitation I had been hearing all over the forest for the last few weeks, was probably parent birds defending their fledgling babies from disturbance. I was regularly hearing the alarm calls made by blackbirds from the forest floor and the birds I managed to catch glimpse of were stiff and flighty with tails bobbing up and down, managing to jump and react to every small movement; really very disturbed. I also saw the same behaviour in great tits and crested tits in the canopy yesterday; they caused an absolute rumpus if I went too near to their ‘patches’ – the places where there young were – shouting and complaining and flitting this way and that to warn me off. It was only when I had been sitting in my spot for more than an hour was I able to see a group of blue tit parents and fledglings moving through the woods chattering quietly amongst themselves as they got on with the business of catching insects; flitting happily from branch to branch together.

10th June 2018

It is late spring and I have finally established my sit~spot practice and managed to get out to ‘my place’ every day, the path towards it is pictured below) usually in the early hours of the morning. I can categorically say that it has changed everything for me; I have been plunged into a world of nature to a level that I had never even dreamed of witnessing before and since my first ‘sit’ in late march, I have seen more wildlife; more mammals, birds, insects and invertebrates than I could ever have thought possible. This place that seemed so ’empty’ before, I know now, is teeming with life – all it took was the time to slow down and really start to observe.

It was hard to find the right spot to sit. I wandered around for what seemed like an age trying to decide on the best place. Everything seemed to be pretty inaccessible at first, living as we do, on steep mountainous terrain. There were sheep to contend with, nosey farmers to avoid, deep snow to climb through, cold spots to endure and the ‘threat’ of wolves to think about but finally, this spring, I came across a definitive place, when I happened upon a patch of land that seemed to have the perfect mix of habitat for many different types of animal. I also found a focus in this place; something that drew me back day after day – a spotted flycatcher’s nest.

It is the only swampy ground for miles around; a piece of land sandwiched between the main valley river and another smaller brook, coming to a head at a pointed, black-sanded beach to the west. A friend has ten beehives out in the meadow that flanks its south side. I went to watch spawning frogs in April alongside blooming marsh marigolds and just kept being drawn back again and again, as I discovered more and more on each visit. There are many dead standing trees, pockmarked by many visiting woodpeckers and the marshy land gives an abundance of insects for other birds, especially well-suited to the spotted flycatchers, who chase flies, gnats and midges through the branches.

Whilst I was passing by a shallow pond that had been created by the mountains’ snow-melt one day to look at the tadpoles swarming around its banks, I heard the continual loud alarms of two birds that were obviously guarding a nest. I then glimpsed two brown bodies flitting and darting around, continually coming to rest agitatedly on a piece of bark that was hanging away from the trunk of a dead-standing tree at a weird angle. It was only after an hour of sit~spot practice right there and then, whilst allowing the alarm calls to die away and the birds to get on with their business, that I made the connection between the birds’ comings and goings and the piece of bark – it was stuffed with moss and was holding babies; hungry, unseen, baby spotted flycatchers (I later identified). My dream had come true – I had never found a nest in the wild before and this was just the most delightful thing I had ever seen. I was spellbound. To watch these birds activity, the red ants creeping over my shoes, the dragonflies hovering over the water and the tadpoles swimming in the brackish shallows was perfection in itself.

This is all very well and good for my current sit~spot practice because I have the best reason in the world to go back again and again to the same place; where days have turned into weeks and I watch the babies grow and I hope one day soon, fledge. In the process of spending all my time focused in on this particular nest, I have gained really valuable insights into the workings of the rest of that little patch of wood; the periods of time when the adults are away and indeed the rest of the birds seem to be lying low, in contrast to the times of high activity, for example. I have learnt to decipher and predict when those different times will take place by listening to the alarm calls of certain species such as chaffinches and blackbirds as they tell me in unison what disturbances are going on around the place, that will cause the other birds to hide. I also listen for the ‘seep-seep’ alarm calls of the smaller birds denoting a ‘sharpie’ in the immediate area – an unmistakable alarm for me now, having heard it again and again at my spot and being able to catch a glimpse of the culprit skulking through the treetops in search of the next kill more often than not. A great feeling, when I can verify exactly what warning I myself have heard from the canopy a few seconds before.

This place holds such promise, I know that now. I am intoxicated by it. I am following the fortunes of the baby spotted flycatchers avidly; a few nights of torrential rain recently sees me rushing to find out whether they have be drowned in their open-topped nest; every morning I observe both parents diligently carrying insects into their open beaks; they are safe. Every passing woodpecker is seen as the enemy, every mewl of a soaring buzzard heard as a threat. And most importantly, from sitting still day after day, eyes trained on that small nest deep in the woods, I have also glimpsed bands of marsh tits cavorting in the pines, fledgling black redstarts waiting patiently on low branches for their parents to bring them food, blackcaps and whitethroats passing through, singing exquisite melodies to each other as they go.

This is the place. this is the place.