Covering such a broad expanse of woodland, it is no surprise that the Blean supports a large number and variety of birds. Many familiar garden birds are present in the woods all year, including blue, great and coal tits, robin, wren, dunnock, blackbird, song thrush, green and great spotted woodpecker. More specialised woodland species such as crossbill (confined to conifers), nuthatch, tree creeper, lesser spotted woodpecker and marsh tit can also be found at Blean.
The variety of birds increases each spring with the arrival of migrants from Africa, the most iconic member of this group being the much-loved nightingale, a bird declining nationally. With over 10% of the Kent population (and more than 4% of the UK population) breeding in the Blean, this area of woodland has a key part to play in the continued survival of the nightingale in Britain.
Other summer migrants include willow warbler, chiffchaff, blackcap, garden warbler and whitethroat. Like the nightingale, all these species benefit enormously from the provision of dense scrubby habitat that is created by coppicing.
Many of our woodland birds are in decline nationally, a trend that is, unfortunately, also apparent in the Blean: formerly common species such as turtle dove, cuckoo, tree pipit, starling and spotted flycatcher are now extremely scarce in the Blean, while willow tit, redstart, wood warbler and hawfinch no longer breed. Fortunately, a few species are bucking the trend. Hobby, a relative of the kestrel, and a summer visitor, is thankfully on the increase, and the buzzard is rapidly becoming a common sight soaring over the wooded countryside, returning to Kent as recently as 1999, having been persecuted to extinction in the county by 1820. Nightjars are also increasing, thanks to a combination of an increase in the area being coppiced and the creation of areas of heathland, and as much as 30% of the Kent population may breed in the Blean. Like the woodcock and tawny owl, the nightjar is nocturnal, so a visit at dusk is required if you are to stand much chance of seeing any of these enigmatic birds.
Written by Michael Walter