Mill Wood, in the centre of Gower, has been worked for generations. Still owned by the Forestry Commission, it is changing again. Native deciduous trees are slowly replacing the introduced conifers, creating a mix that is ideal for birds. The restored remains of the old 18th century water mill and its trout-rearing ponds are also an added feature of this now recreational woodland, with paths providing wonderful walks, and a great venue for school parties at any time of the year. Mixing people and wildlife is something close to my heart, and I’m happy to join in the enthusiasm of a group of young teenagers on a ‘discover day’ this afternoon as I walk my familiar route through the damp woodland.
The wood is sheltered, away from the wind, and a great place to hear the soft sounds of winter birds as they busily search for food during these short days. The usual common tits are never far away, but tend to move in flocks, dragging along nuthatches, goldcrests, chaffinches and the odd marsh tit. A wintering chiffchaff, or is it two, flits silently at the ends of branches, but is gone before I can get a good look. I’m told that there are lesser-spotted woodpeckers in the wood, and they sometimes join in with the tit flocks in winter, but I’ve never been lucky enough to find one.
I can usually find siskins here in mid-winter, and they’re in exactly the same spot again this year. About 20 systematically search the alder cones for insects in the high branches of small trees by the pond in the middle of the wood. Redpolls are sometimes here too, and although the light is poor, I’m sure I can make out a few at the very tops of the trees. When the weather turns cold, good numbers of redwings take up residence in the wood. At least 40, with a few fieldfares, gorge on the soft ivy berries, and I wonder how many more will arrive in the coming weeks; snow is forecast for the weekend.