Menstrie Woods at the foot of Dumyat has a lovely mix of wildlife living within it. I have taken a walk here most weeks over the last year. I particularly enjoy the high path that goes from the woodland play park up into higher woodland.
May is a great time to visit as all the bluebells and wild garlic is coming into flower and it looks and smells amazing. It is harder to see the birds as the trees are in leaf but they are all singing and the forest music is turned to maximum.
In this post I will share some of the highlights of what I have seen over the last few months. Most of the pictures and all the videos are from within the wood, a few are of species I have seen in the woods but better quality pictures taken elsewhere.
A recent arrival to the woods are the returning Blackcaps and a real favourite of mine. Whilst some do winter in UK (not in Menstrie Woods), most head to Southern Europe or North Africa. They arrived back in the first half of March. The chances are the first thing that will alert you to them being around is their alarm call which sounds like two stones being banged together, similar to a Stonechat if you know that sound.
Be patient and if you are lucky they might come out of the undergrowth and you can see this lovely bird. Often the male bird seems to get the naming rights and that is the case here – only the male has a black cap, the female’s is just as fetching but brown.
If you wait around you might hear the male’s song which sounds like he is practising to be a Blackbird, a bit scratchy and unaccomplished at first but then he hits his stride and gets the hang of it with a deep Baritone polish.
When you are walking around the woods you might suddenly realise there are a lot of birds around you. If so you may have come across a roaming flock. Groups of birds travel together to find food and for safely – the more eyes, the better for spotting predators. The flock will almost certainly include Blue, Great and Coal Tits but may also include Long-Tailed Tits, Goldcrests, Chaffinches and one of my favourite birds, Treecreepers.
Over the winter, we also had quite a few Siskin and Lesser Redpoll travelling around the woods and these are great birds to spot. Once you know the Lesser Redpoll’s flight call (which sounds like morse code), you find out it is actually quite a common bird.
The Siskin is a stunning yellow bird, particularly the male, whilst the Redpoll has the red dot on the forehead after which it is named.
There are three birds that you are most likely to see climbing trees in the woods and they are each wonderful birds.
The Great Spotted Woodpecker will be heard drumming on most walks in the woods from January to April. But their call can really help to find them too.
It is easy to tell the sex of a GSW as the male has red on the back of the head whilst the female has black. Juvenile’s have a red cap on the top of their heads too so are easy to distinguish from the adults.
The Treecreeper is well named as you will always see it creeping mouselike up the side of trees. It is very well camouflaged, matching the bark until it moves side on and you can see it’s white belly. Treecreepers move up a tree and then fly down to the bottom of another before moving up the next one. They never climb downwards (unlike our next bird). They have fantastically long claws to hold on and a long silvery bill for digging out insects.
The last of the tree climbers is the Nuthatch. This bird has advanced up through Scotland during the last 20 years (demonstrating the impact of climate change) and is now common here. Nuthatches visit the feeder at the bottom of the woods but can also be seen climbing up and down the trees. The long black eyestripe appears as an extension to its dagger-bill.
A war zone
Of course we also have mammals in Menstrie Woods including both species of resident Squirrels. From my experience the native Red is found more further west in the woods and the introduced Grey’s nearer the village itself. It is great that our native Reds are making a come back in Menstrie and elsewhere in Scotland and they may have the Pine Martin to thank. Reds being smaller can run further on smaller branches than the Greys and therefore escape the Pine Martins more often than their larger North American cousin. This maybe enough to tip the balance in favour of the Reds where Pine Martins are present.
We also have a herd of Roe Deer in the Woods. They are quite sensitive to noise but if you go on the top path you are quite likely to see them, if only their white behinds bouncing away. If you sit still high in the woods they may well come quite close to you before noticing you.
Often we are the cause of most disruption in the woods. But if you learn to step lightly and be quiet this ceases to be the case. After that, every so often you might be in the woods and notice a real commotion.
You might hear some loud screeching, even screaming. Far from subtle, you could be forgiven for thinking someone was being tortured – you are hearing a band of Jay’s. They are beautiful, shy and very intelligent Corvids (member of the Crow Family) but they do make a racket.
Another reason for possible pandemonium in the woods is that a bird of prey is travelling through. This could be a Sparrowhawk darting between the trees or perhaps a Common Buzzard. Either way it is likely all the smaller birds will alarm call and dive for the nearest cover.
Funnily enough the Jay has a wicked sense of humour as it has learnt to incorporate a Buzzard call into its’ own repertoire. I like to think it does it just for fun to see all the other birds react in this way.