Sunday, 8 February 2015

Farmland in February - into the "hungry gap"

February and March is the peak of the "hungry gap" for our farmland birds: winter food supplies are becoming very depleted and spring food resources are yet to appear.  At this time of year, farmland birds can sometimes be seen in large flocks, attracted to the few fields where good supplies of food remain.

On Saturday afternoon, a visit to Otmoor RSPB nature reserve with friends was memorable not just for the starling roost "murmeration" over the reedbed but also for the crowds of reed buntings and linnets that have gathered along the track beside the Wetland Watch hide. Seed has been scattered on the track on a daily basis and has already attracted the flocks - easily a hundred of both species. This plentiful supply of seed will no doubt help to see them through the hungry gap.

On Sunday morning I returned to a cultivated stubble field near the village of Thenford, east of Banbury, where I'd noticed a large flock of yellowhammers the day before.  This time I had more time to study the birds, but they were very flighty and not tolerant of my presence - even though I stayed in the car.  I was able to estimate at least 80 yellowhammers, searching in the stubble for the last remaining cereal seeds: quite a large gathering .  It's a reminder how precarious an existence it is some of our farmland birds - take away these stubbles and our yellowhammers would be in real trouble.

After watching the yellowhammers I continued to Thenford Church, a lovely spot overlooking part of the arboretum established by Michael Heseltine.
Thenford Church
Snowdrops are coming into full bloom, the first primrose flowers appearing too. 
A little further on, a flock of 160 fieldfares were busy looking for worms in a large pasture field, with a few redwings and starlings scattered among them.  I then visited the Farthinghoe nature reserve and searched to willow tits, without success, but had an enjoyable stomp around.

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