Friday, 3 April 2015

An inventory of the farm's more commonly seen birds.

I've just uncovered another bird feeder while sorting out the stables, so setting that up is one quick job for outside today.  But it's a Good Friday for staying indoors. Grey sky, drizzle and cold air. I'll just sort out my seeds, drink coffee and watch the birds on the feeders. Even I have a lazy day occasionally.

It's been a very quiet winter for birds here on the farm.
I moved the feeders into a more sheltered spot, as the wind was blowing them all over the place and throwing the seed all over the floor. They're also now right in front of the patio doors. Watching the birds at the feeders is on my list of things of which I will never tire.
The niger feeders have been full of squabbling goldfinches. The fat balls are the preserve of the agile blue tit, while its bigger cousin, the great tit prefers to dart in, grab a seed and disappear again. We enjoyed a brief visit by a couple of long-tailed tits, the most delicate of birds but only an occasional visitor to the farm. A small colony of house sparrows chatter from inside nearby bushes, hopping around on the ground with the chaffinches mopping up the scraps. Unfortunately tree sparrows seem to be a thing of the past. Another ground feeder is the dunnock and a pair are always present. They have even learned to perch on the feeders. Then, of course there are the robins, bossing all the other birds, and the ubiquitous blackbirds. At quieter times a pair of collared doves comes to the feeders too, though there's not much on the ground for them. I would love to scatter seed everywhere, but this would quickly attract the rats.
I recently acquired a no-no feeder which I have filled with sunflower seeds. Within days, greenfinches became a regular visitor and a reed bunting ventured close to the house. No yellowhammers this year though. They only come onto the farm in the harshest of conditions, though it wont be long before they can be heard singing from nearby hawthorn bushes "a little bit of bread and no cheeeeese".
Always around in the garden, but with no reason to visit the feeders, are wrens. Goodness knows how many we actually have here. Another loiterer is the song thrush.  I am very pleased that we seem to have a pair moved back into the garden.

Keeping a bit more distance from the house, mistle thrushes, stock doves and woodpigeons tend to stay in the old ash trees or come to the ground only right in the open. Fortunately most of the woodpigeons stay out in the fields. Great spotted woodpeckers and the occasional green woodpecker visit the ash trees too and early in the morning crows perch in them scanning for loot. Very occasionally a buzzard will seek rest in the branches of the ash trees, but it never takes long for the crows to harass them.

Of course, the stars of the show are the owls. At this time of year, barn owls regularly hunt over the farm and along the dykes. They've got young to feed and are much more active during the day. Just occasionally, late evening or early morning, we surprise one which has settled up in the old ash trees.
Then, of course, there are the little owls. Our pair are surprisingly secretive, as little owls can be very showy. But early afternoon they always start calling and any time spent outside in the crepuscular hours is sure to guarantee a sighting of them. Seeing owls is another thing on my 'never tire of' list.

The winter has been surprisingly lacking in raptors. No merlin. No harriers. Just a couple of passing peregrines. Kestrels, of course, do very well here all year round and buzzards are becoming more and more common.

The red kite has still not spread into the fens. I did see one low over the farm last week though. Only the third record in over four years. There's obviously a bit of movement going on at the moment though, as in the last week, as well as the red kite, I've had a woodcock fly through late one evening and a short-eared owl has been quartering the fields in the late afternoons. This latter species didn't winter in the area this year, so I presume this one is making its way back towards its breeding grounds.

The fields are home to lapwings (up to a thousand earlier this year) and golden plovers too, though they have long since departed. The last week has seen the disappearance of the winter thrushes too, redwings and fieldfares. Keeping sheep over winter has meant that these have stayed around the farm this year. Up to about a hundred of each have been around, hopping around on the ground in the sheep field. A couple of the redwings became remarkably tame and spent much of their time around the chicken pen. The sheep have attracted a couple of magpies too, though their cousin the jackdaw is more regularly seen flying over in noisy parties, commuting between villages. Jays are only very occasional visitors too and rooks even rarer.

I am hoping that the sheep paddocks will attract migrating wheatears this year too. The first year we were here, the grass was short in April and we had up to nine wheatears drop in late in the month, with up to four together. Since then, though, we have managed the grassland differently and I have only seen a couple more all too briefly.
And in the longer grass in the young woodland the pheasants and partridges hang out. Sadly grey partridges are a very rare sight now, though I think they are still around in very small numbers. We've not had any sizeable flocks of skylarks or meadow pipits this winter either. The skylarks have started singing again though - it seems that any vaguely sunny day gives them an excuse.

And right at the back of the farm runs the dyke. It has, in the past, attracted snipe, a jack snipe and singles of redshank, greenshank and green sandpiper. More usual though are a couple of mallards, perhaps a teal and maybe a grey heron or a little egret in the winter.

A pair of pied wagtails have moved back onto the farm. I don't know where they go in the winter, but they are back in late March every year. I like to think that it's the same pair. They always choose to nest in the most bizarre locations - under pallets, being their favourite.

And so we move into the spring. Some birds leave the farm but others arrive, and some merely pass through on their way somewhere else.

It won't be long until the pondside bushes hold chiffchaffs, blackcaps and whitethroats and yellow wagtails call as they fly low over nearby fields. They'll be followed by reed warblers and sedge warblers jinking and rattling away in the dykes. And of course, the swallows which should be back in the barn by the end of the month.
The last migrants will be the cuckoos - we still get one or two calling each summer - and finally the screaming of swifts scything through the air on balmy summer days.

Hopefully, in amongst all these, I'll find another new bird for the farm list which currently stands on 106 species. The last new bird was a couple of fly-through gannets on a windy day back on 11th October 2013.
An osprey flying over would do nicely.

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