June 11 – Mandarin Interlopers

Redstarts in that finest remnant of midland woodland the Wyre Forest not far from Kidderminster

Redstarts in that finest remnant of midland woodland the Wyre Forest not far from Kidderminster

I don’t know about you, but even though we’re worrying about the drought and whether it’s symptomatic of irreversible climate change, this spring has been an absolute beauty. There’s been so much to enjoy, not least a day I spent down in the woods right at the end of May.

We’d promised some friends from Norfolk that we’d find them some wood warblers and redstarts in that finest remnant of midland woodland the Wyre Forest not far from Kidderminster. As we parked up by forest stream I realised that the pressure was really on me as the prime guide and I hadn’t been for the best part of four decades.

Fortunately, the bridleway I remembered from teenage years still wound its way along the brook and many of the commoner woodland birds were in full song. It was hard work finding them though, and it was late morning before we located the redstarts – a pair of them nesting on the edge of a clear fell. The male is such a beauty, in my view the most beautiful and exotic of all regular British breeding birds, blue mantled with a red chest and belly set off by a jet black cravat and face.

A little later we spied our first wood warbler singing gustily at the top of a mighty oak that was virtually at eye level to us as we padded down a disused railway cutting that bisects the forest. And joy of joys all around us were newly emerged pearl bordered fritillary butterflies – gorgeous in their toasted brownness.

A pair of mandarin ducks dabbling in the brook

A pair of mandarin ducks dabbling in the brook

Oddly though, my strongest memory is of a pair of mandarin ducks dabbling in the brook near a disused mill that nestles like Red Riding Hood’s cottage in the woods. Normally, I’m not in favour of feral interlopers but the mandarins were in a different league. Getting rather rare in their native China, it was wonderful indeed to admire the drake’s exotic plumage (a blaze of oranges when he paddled out of the shade) and his partner’s plain prettiness on an English stream.

No chance of such a sight last time I came but we’re in a different, fast changing world now on so many levels. I’ve often bewailed the impact of China on our own economy just as I’ve bemoaned the success of none native creatures (grey squirrels and mink spring to mind). Somehow, seeing those mandarin interlopers (and them being so lovely) reaffirmed that globalisation has its good points. Don’t get me wrong though, to my mind the redstart’s still the prettiest bird in the woods.

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