Swallow migration over Charnwood Forest

For the past 2 weeks we have been watching as Swallows and House Martins have been migrating through  Ulverscroft valley, part of the Charnwood Forest

As Paula and I have our breakfast about 8.30am, we have noticed the birds as they start to fly past in small groups, maybe twenty or so.  This has been going on most days at hourly intervals, maybe more often.  We see them perched on wires close to the house, feeding low over the adjoining fields and swooping around the Oak trees, which are scattered all around the fields and hedgerows.

Barn Swallow

Last week, especially from September 18th the numbers started to increase, larger flocks and more often. Our house is situated at about 600 ft and the ridge above us is about 750 ft, very high for Leicestershire.  The birds seem to be following the line of the valley which leads roughly North – South.

A Barn Swallow zips across the field

However on Saturday 19th, the numbers went crazy.  I woke up and looked outside and already by 7.30 birds were swooping over the field at the back of the house.  As I was cleaning my teeth I looked out of the window and counted 51 mixed swallows and House martins sitting in a long row along the power line.


Birds on the wire.

All day long, more birds, different ones arrived and passed on in tumbling groups.  Then about 5.30 in the evening, birds arrived en- mass, thousands of them.  They were feeding around the tops of Oak and Silver Birch trees, even perching in the uppermost branches, I have never witnessed this before, they must be feeding on a myriad of insects.  By 6.30 everywhere we looked there were birds, they were making  lots of noise, chattering and twittering. Their behaviour was erratic, crazy, almost frenzied. then in the space of ten  minutes they had disappeared, gone, vanished.  I tried to see where, but couldn’t.  They hadn’t flown away, as other groups had during the preceding days.  I can only imagine they had roosted in the trees, but by now the light was fading fast, night was closing in.

The following morning- yesterday and to-day I have not seen one Swallow or Martin, they have departed Charnwood Forest and headed south.  The garden and fields seem so quiet.  We will not see them again till next summer, for us their migration is over but for them its only just beginning.


House martins feeding around a tree top.

A different forest

Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Staffordshire all have a share in the realm of a great forest in the making, the national forest. When visiting this realm do not expect to wander for hours and hours in the shade of great trees, as you might expect in Epping or the New Forest, where you are totally surrounded by nature.

Epping forest in autumn

Pollarded Beech in the ancient forest of Epping

Walking through the National Forest is a  completely different experience, a place to simply enjoy yourself in a whole variety of ways.

Every turn could bring an unexpected surprise, be it wildlife, archeological, geological or artistic. The National Forest is not just a forest, it is a fusion of english life intertwined between trees.

A week or so back we visited the new National Cycle centre at Hicks Lodge, near to Moira. I was birdwatching as usual, but was just as happy to see a whole variety of people enjoying themselves in the countryside in their own way.

Miles of tracks alongside new plantations, mature woods and lakes.

Newly opened in the autumn of 2012, the National Cycle centre

No matter where you go in the National Forest there are ample signs and information boards to tell you about the area.

Staffords Wood is close to the delightful village of Melbourne, a community established on its expertise at market gardening.

I go to the Staffords wood area to check on some rare trees, Black Poplars. There can be few people who do not like trees, if fact I believe absolutely everyone loves trees. So to finish this blog I will let you into two small secrets  of the National Forest, ‘How to walk on ‘GOLD’ and to find a tree that almost ties itself into a KNOT’ ?

To walk on 'gold' is to visit a Larch wood in the late autumn after a severe frost, a transitory event but magical when discovered.



Well not quite a knot but almost.



Is this a tree or the biggest 'tree-swing' in the world. The Beech trees on Beacon Hill are magnificent, to visit them is to visit a 'home of Ents'.


More stories about t the National Forest in future blogs or for more images visit my website Websterswildshots






















Charnwood Forest butterflies

The English summer never really happened this year and I was reminded of this on a wildlife walk this week through the lovely Leicestershire countryside.  Autumn is my favourite season, the crispness of the air, yellows and golds of leaves, blackberries in the hedgerow, but little compares to the beauty of our autumn butterflies the Comma and Red Admiral.  Comma butterfly

Look on the underwing, bottom left for the little white comma , which gives this butterfly its name.

Red Admiral butterfly

I am very fortunate to live in the Charnwood Forest in Leicestershire, Charnwood Forest is itself part of the National Forest.  In the National Forest there are countless nature reserves and areas accessible for people to walk. In May of this year  I was near the centre of the National Forest at Moira.  I was photographing a female Orange Tip butterfly, the split second I took the photograph a male flew into shot – how lucky can you get !

A male Orange Tip butterfly flies in to an awaiting female.

With such a great start to the butterfly year I was expectant for more.  Not so, the weather has been awful. Butterflies need sunshine and warmth, this is the ‘elixir of life’ for butterflies, only this enables them to fly and fly they must, to find a mate.  The only butterfly that has done well this year to my knowledge is the Meadow Brown and on a local nature reserve, the Lea Meadows in Ulverscroft valley, Meadow Browns have been abundent.

Meadow Brown butterfly

The Lea Meadows nature Reserve, owned by the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust http://www.lrwt.org.uk/  is a meadowland site. But its special in that it has not been ploughed since medieval times and neither have any agrochemicals been applied.  In consequence the 30 acres of meadows are full of wild plants, many species of which used to be common but are not these days. The conservation of such sites are vital to butterfly populations.

Lea Meadows nature reserve, Charnwood Forest, Leicestershire


During the year I lecture and talk to many groups and societies and without exception people love to hear about butterflies. Seeing a butterfly can have the same effect on people as hearing a bird sing.  It can remind us that the simply things in life are often the best.



Is there anywhere really wild in England ?

Tearing a slice out of the countryside from London to the north of the country is the M1, England’s busiest motorway.  Two miles as the crow flies from this part of the M1 in the midlands, is my home.   Hardly the wilderness, one might think but this is where the National Forest is located and in this recently created forest, there are some fantastic wildlife areas.



The National Forest comprises a huge landscape where a juxtaposition of desecrated land from mineral workings, mining and disappeared industries borders ancient forests such as Charnwood and Needwood.

The cities of Derby, Leicester, Stoke and Nottingham all lie close to the National Forest. These cities also have great football clubs, but if its wildlife you want on a Saturday afternoon the new National Forest will provide that too.

Woodlands are places where you can most easily get lost, not just physically but emotionally as well.  Trees and leaves absorb sound, that s why many species of birds join together to sing their ‘dawn chorus’.   So, busy and crowded as England may appear to be, wild places are to be found and the National Forest is one of them.