Wytham Woods is the most studied woodland on earth 🌳🌳🌳. Every spring, a population of birds undergo their breeding season as they make their homes in the 1000 or so nest boxes spread across the woods. And every spring, this population is closely monitored by members of the Edward Grey Institute at the University of Oxford.
This year, the long-term monitoring project celebrates it 75th birthday! That's 75 years of continuous data collection, which is incredibly valuable data that has been used to help answer fundamental questions about ecology and evolution. Watch this video to find out how we monitor the population and collect standardised data, taking you through a season in three of the boxes!
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All fieldwork in this video was undertaken with the correct British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) ringing licenses - please do not interfere with breeding birds unless you also have the correct permits!
Following the busy breeding season, I have taken a short break to Rutland Water to visit the Rutland Water Nature Reserve and Lyndon Nature Reserve, famed for their breeding ospreys that can be seen there. I also enjoyed seeing quite a few avocets, which of course are known as the face of the RSPB!
It has been another extremely busy breeding season this year in Bean Wood at Wytham! But with over 180 adults identified, 640 chicks ringed, and ~1500 individual nest-box checks, it is finally drawing to an end. I will be producing a short video in the coming weeks which will take you through the season in a handful of boxes, but for now here are some photo highlights!
75 years ago today, the first egg was recorded in Wytham, beginning a huge effort to systematically track the breeding attempts of an entire population over multiple decades. I feel very lucky to be just one small cog that has contributed to the data collection in this incredible study which has been so influential and critical in studies of ecology and evolution. Keep an eye out for Wytham across various media outlets this week as we celebrate the anniversary!
BBC News article: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-61314226
Video clip: https://twitter.com/i/status/1522107127426437120
A series of beautiful wildflowers seen springing out of the hedgerows and grassy meadows in Wytham this time of year.
It's the 75th anniversary of data collection here in Wytham Woods and I'm pleased to say that the first egg has been laid in my round! This long-term study has been crucial to understanding patterns in ecology and evolution, and a nice demonstration of that is the finding of this first egg on March 30th. Climate change has led to warmer temperatures earlier in the spring, meaning earlier emergence of leaves and earlier caterpillars. This means that if breeding birds continued to raise their young at the same time of year, they would miss the peak of caterpillars when compared to the peak of their chicks' energetic needs – a condition known as trophic mismatch. This means that the birds have also had to shift their breeding season earlier. This can be seen clearly across the 75 years of data collection in Wytham, where when the study started in 1947, egg-laying was almost a month later!
Nice afternoon at Farmoor reservoir seeing plenty of species, including the rare Oxon great northern diver visitor that has been here for a few weeks now. It's also great to see some courtship dances among the great-crested grebes, which I think is always one of the very best behaviours to watch!
I was very happy to see this beautiful male wheatear during an evening trip to Port Meadow today! These birds are reasonably rare visitors to Oxfordshire, having come from central Africa where they over-winter, and passing through to breed either on the west coasts of the UK or further afield.
It's been a great day for feeling like spring has sprung in Oxford. I trudged around a few of the wildlife hotspots inside the city, with no particular hopes to see anything specific. This started in Port Meadow, where the river runs along the west and the canal to the east. At this time of year, the meadow is still flooded, attracting many gulls, waterfowl and some waders to roost overnight. This includes sometimes very large flocks of golden plover, one of which I saw isolated today perfectly camouflaged against the yellow grass! The air was thick with skylark song, which I expect will start laying their first eggs in a month-or-so's time. I then crossed north Oxford through to Marston meadows, where the first chiffchaff song of the year made me sure that spring has sprung!
As part of my PhD, I have been conducting research on how individuals within populations end up pairing with partners that are of a similar age to themselves. Here is a poster that summarises this research, which was due to be presented at the British Ecological Society's conference in Liverpool, which sadly I was unable to attend due to COVID. Find a link to a higher quality version of the poster here: http://tiny.cc/ghhmuz.
A blog of my ideas, photography and research of the natural world.