Little oaks tree mystery

Flanders Moss NNR

Sharp eyed visitors may have noticed as they walk around the boardwalk at Flanders lots of oak tree seedlings growing up in the edge woodland. This isn’t really what you would expect on deep peat bog. When I first saw them I wondered is someone had secretly been planting oak trees (not something we would want to happen on a nature reserve – oaks don’t fit in on bogs) but closer examination reveals that oak seedlings are appearing in various parts of the birch woodland away from the path.

So how and why are these appearing? It would seem that something is burying acorns around the edges of Flanders, maybe as a food cache, for winter eating. Squirrels can do this but they are rarely seen seen around Flanders, neither grey or red.

So the culprit, I suspect, are jays. These colourful members of the crow family live in the area and are seen occasionally at Flanders. Though there are virtually no acorn producing oak trees on Flanders there are plenty of mature oaks in the hedgerows of the farmland surrounding the moss. Jays are woodland specialists and in years when lots of acorns are produced they collect and bury them as a way of preserving a food supply for the difficult winter months. Though jays have brilliant brains for remembering where they left the acorns they don’t remember all of them and these germinate and starting growing into trees.

A jay in the hand – this bird was caught in a mist net by licenced scientists so it could be ringed for scientific purposes.

But Flanders isn’t an easy place for jays either. A couple of years ago I found the remains of a jay – you can find out more about the spectacular blue of a jays wing in a previous blog post “the end of the jay” here. And just the other day I found another jay wing – always a piece of treasure to be examined and admired. It seems likely that these 2 birds had fallen prey to a larger bird of prey, maybe a goshawk.

Will the jays turn Flanders into an oak wood? I don’t think so. I suspect that the deer will nibble off lots of the seedlings as they get bigger – in fact some of the biggest little oaks already have forked tops showing that the nibbling has begun. And as the oaks get bigger I think they will struggle to compete with the birch in the waterlogged and very poor peaty soils. But one of two may well survive, slow growing and twisted, but becoming notable denizens of a future Flanders fringe woodland.

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1 Response to Little oaks tree mystery

  1. peigimccann says:

    The jays are indeed, as this article says, “l’oiseau qui plantait des arbres,”
    I also found a fresh pigeon carcass on nearby Gillies Hill that was surrounded by acorns spilled from within the bird when it became someone’s meal (perhaps a sparrowhawk?) so I suspect they could be planters, too.


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