It is another bright morning, a clear blue sky and the crunch of last night’s frost underfoot. Keeping up a good pace along the forest rides means that I am soon comfortable, warmed by the exercise and several layers of clothing. The brightness of the morning has prompted many of the forest’s birds to sing and, in addition to the Coal Tits and Chaffinches, there is the explosive trill of a Wren and the rolling high-pitched song of a Goldcrest. This is an encouraging sign because these small birds may well have struggled with the severity of the winter we have just experienced.
I am soon out of the mature blocks of pine and onto the clear-fell, where two Roe Deer are stirred to move off by my arrival. Roe are curious creatures and the two of them stop to watch me once they feel they have put sufficient distance between us. It is then that I catch a snatch of Woodlark song, a somewhat melancholy series of notes that picks up pace part way through. Glancing up I spot the bird, in flight and over an area where they almost certainly nested last year. Woodlark are partial migrants and many of the birds from the Brecks will winter further south and west of here, returning in March to occupy suitable breeding territories. Colour-ringed birds from East Anglia have been found wintering in the Netherlands and across the south-west of England. Being a partial migrant means that not all of the individuals will move away come winter, some will stay and others may move in one year but not the next.
The Woodlark is something of a success story, a bird whose numbers have increased six-fold since the mid-1980s. This increase has been linked to an expansion in the amount of clear-fell and young plantation woodland, coupled with the restoration of lowland heath and a run of mild winters. Even with this increase, the bird still only occupies part of its former range. The Brecks and the Suffolk Sandlings are important breeding areas, perhaps holding between a third and a half of the UK breeding population.
Clear-fell in the Brecks provides the birds with suitable nesting habitat, the Woodlark requiring a mixture of bare ground or short vegetation in which to feed, taller vegetation in which to nest and the presence of trees from which the males can sing. The matrix of forest blocks provides this nesting habitat and, with the presence of winter feeding opportunities present locally, the birds have done well. This is only my first Woodlark of the year but it won’t be my last. More will begin to sing and soon they will start nest building.