Sunday, 7 January 2018

SP 42 Short Day Count: Hawfinches and Farmland birds

Great to be out all day on Saturday taking part in the BOS Short Day Count with Colin Wilkinson, covering 10km OS grid square SP42.  This was our second year covering this patch for the winter count and we are starting to get to know some of the sites quite well.  One place we always head to is the hamlet of Kiddington, where there is some nice parkland with mature trees, an old church with yew trees and a small lake that is relatively undisturbed.  We called in reasonably early in the morning as we felt this was our best potential site for Hawfinches. And so it proved, with a small flock of at least five in tall trees as we approached the main house, and at least eight more as we left the churchyard and walked towards the lake - at least 13 in all - the largest number I've seen so far this winter.  Extremely wary, they did not stay around too long, soon flying off up the small valley.

Our favourite site is probably the area around Northbrook, just south of Lower Heyford.  This a great place for farmland birds - the last Corn Bunting stronghold in the BOS area - and also close to the Cherwell Valley.  Pretty much the first birds we saw were a pair of Grey Partridge, then a little further on, a large mixed flock of buntings and finches soon produced a good number of Corn Buntings (at least 30), as well as plenty of Yellowhammers and a single Reed Bunting.  Our "purple patch" continued with a Little Owl appearing briefly in a barn window, then further on, we picked out a Yellow-legged Gull amongst a mixed group of gulls in the valley.  Very surprisingly, given the abundance of farmland birds in this area we didn't locate any Skylarks, and we regretted not trying harder for them, as by dusk we hadn't found them anywhere else! 

This afternoon I spent some more time watching farmland birds, this time a bit closer to home, near Thorpe Mandeville (Northants)  This particular area is often quite good in winter, with large flocks of linnets every winter, for example.   But this winter it seems to be better than normal, with a large flocks of Skylarks and Yellowhamers as well at the Linnets.  Searching though bunting flock a week ago I was very pleased to find two Corn Buntings - now quite a scarce bird in Northamptonshire - giving hope they may just be hanging on as a breeding bird in this area.  The star birds this afternoon though were Lapwings.  A flock of about 300 were spread across the field, busy pulling earthworm after earthworm from the soil. It looked so easy for them to find the worms, they just had to make sure the attendant Black-headed Gulls didn't steal them.
A flock of 300 Lapwings is a very notable sighting in our area
Busy swallowing an earthwor.
The flock were constantly filling the air with their wonderful calls
Fieldfares and Redwings were also very much in evidence, one Fieldfare obligingly walked towards me:
Two great patches of farmland showing how nature can flourish alongside productive farming & heartening to see.

For more about the Short Day Count look here and here

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