Woodlark (Lullula arborea)

A Woodlark singing on Lindow Moss (SJ88F) from 4 to 7 June 2006 was the first authenticated county record in the breeding season for well over one hundred years! The bird, first reported by Bill Gradwell and recorded for the Atlas by Brian Dyke, was in the D6 (drained bog) habitat and obviously found enough to eat and liked the area sufficiently to stay for a while.

A massive contraction in range between the national breeding bird atlases of 1968-72 and 1988-91 led to Woodlark being placed on the Red List of species of conservation concern, with a Biodiversity Action Plan for its conservation. However, a national survey in 1997 found that the population had increased sixfold since the last survey in 1986, to around 1500 Woodlark territories, and UK numbers are now at their highest for fifty years. The vast majority of birds breeds on sandy soils, either in heathland (in the south) or within forest plantations (in the north and east of their range), particularly in stands of two and three year old trees, although in Devon, Woodlarks breed almost exclusively on farmland. Even though they are mainly birds of the south and east of England, by 2003 there were up to 27 pairs in Staffordshire, and 21 pairs in Yorkshire (Holling et al 2007).

The last known breeding in Cheshire and Wirral was in about 1861. There were only around ten records in the county during the 20th century, all but two of them from Dee estuary sites on passage in spring or autumn. The exceptions were an undated record in 1934 of a bird singing at Spital, Wirral (Hardy 1941) and an extraordinary winter bird on 3 and 4 January 1997. There were further passage records, one in spring and one in autumn, in 2004 and 2005.

The warming trend is already helping the survival of the proportion of the population that winters in Britain, and climate change is expected to shift Woodlarks’ breeding distribution somewhat northwards, although perhaps not as far as Cheshire and Wirral (Huntley et al 2007).