As well as the common birds that you might expect to find in any woodland in the East Midlands, Fineshade also has some rather special avian inhabitants and some of these are listed below.
The variety of breeding bird species recorded in the woodland and scrub habitats means that there is a good case for Fineshade to be given the protected status of Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) - more details here.
Latest bird news 10/6/21
Chiffchaffs arrived on 15 March, a little later than the last year or two. But, after that, the very cold spring delayed the arrival of most other summer migrants. By late May all the usual ones had been heard, arriving in good numbers though later than usual.
The Cuckoo was first heard on 18th April and has been delighting visitors daily, even through the wet cold weather of early May.
Ravens have bred for the 5th year running near King's Cliffe and, probably, at a second site in the wood this year..
A Nightingale was heard singing in Britain Sale on 26 May.
Andy Frost saw a pair of Spotted Flycatchers in Westhay Wood on 27 May and there have been further sightings near Top Lodge in early June. So far, no Hobbies have been recorded. Please let us know if you see one.
Fineshade is right on the northern boundary of the breeding range of this charismatic songster. In 2012 a national survey was carried out and only 33 were recorded singing in the whole of Northants with one in Wakerley Great Wood. But there were none here in Fineshade
Then in 2013 and 2014 a bird was heard singing in the southern part of the wood. It was in a thickly vegetated piece of regenerating woodland, inside a deer exclosure where there is a good mix of coppiced hazel and brambles. There were no records of Nightingales in Fineshade in 2015-16 but in May 2017 a bird was heard setting up territory in the northern part of the wood. Sadly there were no records in 2018.
Then again in 2019, males were heard singing in two different parts of the wood, one on the south-western boundary and at least one more in the centre of the wood. We are grateful to John Isherwood for recording the song which can be heard here. Nightingales are red listed as birds of conservation concern in the UK, so it was great news that, for the first time in recent years, there is more than one providing delight for everyone who hears them.
In 2020 and 2021 a male was singing again in the southern boundary. This part of the wood is known as Britain Sale, and is part of the Blatherwycke Estate. A public footpath leads from Kingscliffe towards Fineshade Abbey and the Nightingale has been heard singing from the path. It occupies the beautiful areas of coppiced Ancient Woodland that are surrounded by deer fencing and covered in Bluebells in the spring.
Photo: Bob Bullock
Nightingale in Fineshade
These are irregular winter visitors which can sometimes be seen using their special bills to open the seeds on pine cones. These parrot-like birds occur frequently in Scotland and Wales but until recently it was many years since they had been seen regularly in Fineshade and they have become quite rare in Northants
The males are red, though not always quite as splendid as the one shown here that turned up in December 2016. The females are a rather dull green. Many years ago a pair also nested near Top Lodge. They are quite exceptional in that they can begin breeding as early as January and we believe that probably occurred in 2017.
A pair was seen again at the Wildlife Hide in November 2018 and small elusive groups have been recorded in various locations through early 2019.
Photo: Kurt Hellwing
The reeling song of this elusive little-brown-job is a real feature of Fineshade summer nights. Its song is like a free-wheeling bike or a fishing reel but can go on for hours and hours. The bird is a bit of a ventriloquist, being able to project the sound in different directions as it turns its head.
In the 1980s and 90s a detailed survey of the wood revealed that each summer there were up to 50 territories established in the thick grasses and brambles in young plantations. As the habitat has changed, numbers have fallen but birds are still present from April to September each year.
In the last year or two they have moved into the new wide rides particularly alongside the Fineshade-Kingscliffe bridleway
Photo: Matt Lodge
This large member of the wader family is here year round. In 2013 a national survey by BTO volunteers revealed that Fineshade and Wakerley Woods are now some of the only places in Northamptonshire where they still breed. Monitoring continues in Fineshade every summer.
At dusk birds carry out a display flight known as roding in which they fly low over the wood to mark their territories by giving out two curious sounds described as grunts and whistles. Since they nest on the ground the birds are vulnerable to free-ranging dogs during the summer months. Resident birds are joined in winter by migrants from northern Europe and during the winter they are widely dispersed throughout the wood. They are very hard to see, often remaining unseen amongst the leaf litter and flushing from the woodland floor at the very last minute.
Photo: Jeff Blincow
Nightjars are nocturnal summer visitors that feed on flying insects, mainly moths. Their call is a distinctive ‘churr’ or ‘jar’. They nest on bare ground and rely upon camouflage for protection.
Twenty years ago Nightjars were very occasional fleeting visitors to Fineshade and then sightings ceased. There has been a national decline in their breeding range and they were thought to no longer occur in Northants. It was therefore most surprising when a pair of churring Nightjars were recorded in Fineshade by Forest Holiday’s own surveyors on two occasions during the spring of 2014. Another was seen by an experienced observer in May 2015. Since then we have carried out surveys at twilight to look and listen for these birds. The result has been one single male churring briefly on one occasion. We searched again in 2018 – but with no success.
Read BTO research about Nightjar habitat requirements.
Photo: Bob Bullock
Not a native species, the Mandarin Duck comes originally from East Asia. Birds from private collections escaped and there are now thought to be about 2300 pairs in Britain including some in Fineshade.
When in the 1980s we erected large nest boxes hoping they would be used by Tawny Owls, several of the boxes were actually occupied by Mandarin Ducks - unusually for ducks they usually nest in hollow trees. Each year since then pairs are seen flying around the wood in early spring. During the winter they sometimes gather in groups and numbers up to 28 have been recorded using the various small ponds in different parts of the wood.
Photo: Bob Bullock
In the Winter’s Tale Shakespeare wrote "when the kite builds, look to your lesser linen", refering to them stealing washing hung out to dry to decorate their nests. Well, Red Kites have been nesting regularly in Fineshade since 2001 and no one has yet admitted to their having lost their smalls from off their washing lines! The one pictured here is carrying grass to its nest.
They have become very much a fact of life here throughout the year and their graceful flight and whistling calls makes them very popular with visitors. Of course, the reason why they are here in such numbers is the re-introduction programme run by Natural England and the Forestry Commission.
Photo: Kurt Hellwing
Marsh and Willow Tits
These two species are really difficult to separate visually and the most reliable method is by their call. There are a really helpful video and audio recordings here. Both species are resident in Fineshade throughout the year though the Marsh Tit is very much more numerous.
In 2018 a full survey was carried out for Willow Tits as part of the Back from the Brink Project. Three or four male birds were heard in February and March and were thought to be establishing territories. However, there was a very severe and late burst of winter weather ("The Beast from the East") and no Willow Tits were heard or seen later in the year.
Marsh Tit on the left and Willow Tit on the right.
Photos: Bob Bullock
The first known record of a Raven in Fineshade was in 2007 and in the following years they began to be seen with increasing frequency. In August 2016 two Ravens, an adult and a juvenile were seen together at Top Lodge, fuelling suspicion that they may have bred nearby. (More details here).
Then in 2017, thanks to painstaking searching by Mark Evans and others, a nesting pair were located neat Kings Cliffe . They subsequently raised two healthy and noisy youngsters and have nested in the same location each year since then, with a suspected second nest establishing on the other side of the wood.
Photo: Kurt Hellwing
The complete list - 102 species
We believe the following is the complete list of birds recorded in Fineshade in recent years. Last updated March 2021
Recording birds in Fineshade Wood:
The Breeding Bird Survey
Every year since 2006 BTO volunteers have carried out a survey on the Ordnance Survey 1-km square, SP9897, which covers the southwestern part of Fineshade Wood. Counts are made of all birds seen and heard along two 1-km long transects. The surveys take place in the early morning during late April/May and again in June/July.
By carrying out the survey in the same way, along the same route, at the same time, year-on-year, changing bird numbers can be assessed. Over 3600 such squares are surveyed nationally and the results used to provide a national assessment of changing bird populations. Read more about the national Breeding Bird Survey.
Over the years 59 species of birds have been recorded on the Fineshade square, with a record number of 43 species in 2015.