Monday, 6 March 2017

Stone Me! A Farm Tick.

Sunday 5th March started miserably. Plans to finish the raspberry plot were put on hold, as was my plan to finish off netting an area for the turkeys to go outside.

Instead I headed into the polytunnel and did general tinkering and tidying. For whatever reason, there were birds everywhere on the smallholding today. Flocks of starlings and winter thrushes were wheeling around and the field next door held over a hundred large gulls - flocks of Black-headed and Common Gulls are usual but Herring Gulls, despite flying over in numbers every morning and every night on the journey to and from the coast, rarely set down in the fields.
View from the landing. I don't quite know what the attraction was
but congregations of large gulls are something of a rarity here.
I scanned through them with my binoculars but there was nothing unusual, though birds were constantly coming and going. With the weather deteriorating further, I abandoned plans to get much done outside and set the telescope up on the landing to continue interrogating the gulls. They were nice to see but there was still nothing out of the ordinary in amongst them.

I continued pottering in the polytunnel until I just couldn't stay cooped up any longer. The sun was putting in half an effort to break through and the wind had died to a gusty breeze.
I decided to tackle that netting.

Strictly speaking, the turkeys can go into a restricted range without it being netted. The problem is that I like my turkeys able to fly, which means they are also able to hop fences. In fact their favourite overnight roost site used to be on top of the stables. Keeping them in a netted area means I can control the environment more so, especially keeping my turkeys separate from wild birds.

Erecting the netting was tricky as every gust of wind conspired to tangle the net into the orchard trees. I had a frustrating hour of unsnagging before calling up the cavalry - aka Sue.

Eventually we got the netting stretched out and secured. We moved a couple of new chicken houses into the area and then propped the netting up higher using bamboo canes topped with tennis balls to protect the netting.

That was one more job achieved than I thought I would get ticked off today. Sue headed off up toward the Main Drain with the dogs and with the weather closing in again I decided to take a stroll up to the end of the land with the intention of checking out the buntings which congregate by the pheasant feeder which next door has put out.
The view back from the dyke toward the farmhouse.
There's a shower heading this way.
Unfortunately Boris and Arthur beat me to the buntings which duly flew off. They were mostly Reed Buntings with a couple of Yellowhammers thrown in. Instead, I spent a while surveying the trees I planted a few years back. It's a wonderful time of year with everything coming into bud, waking up after a long winter.
Suddenly I saw a small bird fly low through the copse and land low on a branch. I can't really explain it, but a birder knows from the briefest glimpse when something is different, and there was just something about the way this bird flew and the way it alighted that caused me to stop until I got a view.
I was very pleasantly surprised to find myself looking at a female (or maybe a young male) Stonechat. This species was on my radar for the smallholding, but after 6 years of not seeing one I had begun to give up hope that one would ever grace us with its presence. I suspect the bird was on the move and had maybe landed ahead of the shower which was about to come through. It moved quickly to the fenceline before heading off across Iain's field to the base of a hawthorn.
I did manage a couple of snaps, holding the phone up to the binoculars. In poor light with improvised equipment it was never going to win any photography awards. I did warn you!
These may not win any photography awards
but a birder might just about be able to make out a stonechat.
I was absolutely chuffed. Bird species Number 109 for the smallholding and the first new species this year.
The heavens had now opened so I headed indoors for a bacon sandwich and coffee to warm up. Sue was still outside with the dogs. They all returned rather bedraggled.

It was heading toward dark now, but one last blast of evening sun had me heading out to see if the Stonechat might have returned. There was no sign, though I did catch up with the buntings all gathered in a hawthorn and a Barn Owl put on a very good show.

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