Sunday, 11 October 2015

Farmland birds: living with intensive food production

You have to admire our farmland birds, especially those successfully scratching a living around the margins of our intensively farmed landscape.  It is a tough existence for our yellowhammers, skylarks and linnets.  Earlier in the week I was fortunate to see my first cirl buntings in the UK - these birds were part of the recently re-introduced population in Cornwall.  Confined to a narrow strip of coastal farmland, about fifty pairs are now established but are reliant on sympathetic farming in the local area, supported by Environmental Stewardship.  Hundreds of thousands of pounds have been invested in re-establishing a population of cirl buntings lost only a few decades earlier.  The vulnerable position of these birds reminded me that it wouldn't take too much more change in our local farmland for us to loose our yellowhammers too.  We have almost lost our corn buntings already.
yellowhammer near Sulgrave
This morning I spent some more time watching the large flock of linnets gathered in a stubble field near Sulgrave.  The field looks like it has been directly drilled with a winter wheat crop - green shoots are appearing in straight lines - hopefully enabling the finch flock and skylarks to sustain themselves for a few more weeks, feeding on the spilt grain and weed seeds.  This field buzzing with bird activity was in contrast to most of the other arable fields in our area - now harvested, cleaned up and prepared for the next crop.  The bare fields can sometimes be attractive to birds, but hardly anything was using them this morning (apart from the odd crow and buzzard), most birds were on the relatively food-rich stubble.
linnets with a few greenfinches
Sadly no golden plovers to report, but a nice surprise was a flock of 23 lapwings, gathered in a stubble field close enough for some photos.  A brown hare crouched low in the field close to the lapwings and skylarks flitted around further back.
four of the lapwings
A regular site for tree sparrows near Weston was occupied by about eight birds and a few yellowhammers, but sadly the hedges have all been neatly trimmed back with little left for the winter thrushes (redwings and fieldfares) when they return from Scandinavia in the next few weeks.

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