Tuesday, 9 February 2016

2016 off to a chilly start!

Wildflower margin in the summer
With a few patches of Snowdrops around the estate signalling (we hope) the start of Spring, we welcomed Mr Hadley and an eager group of Year 4 pupils from Wells Primary School to help us complete the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust Big Farmland Bird Count. This important piece of citizen science has been running for three years now and aims to highlight the good work done by farmers and gamekeepers in helping to reverse the decline in farmland bird numbers. Sue and I had selected two different sites to survey, which each offered an expansive view of farmland as well as a selection of different features such as grass margins, field trees and hedgerows. If only the count was conducted in the summer months!

On arrival we ran through a selection of birds that we were likely to see and looked closely at their key identification features. There followed a quick lesson in binocular skills and we were lucky that a mixed group of birds including Greylag Geese, Coot, Egyptian Geese and a bonus pair of Barnacle Geese had chosen the nearby cricket pitch as their morning hang-out zone. They posed beautifully for us and, having honed our field skills, we set off to our first survey site, clipboards and binoculars in hands.

Brown hare
Site 1 gave us a fantastic view of a large, newly ploughed field and several clumps of field trees which led on to a winter wheat field and the distant back of the Hall. The wind was gusting icy blasts but our intrepid citizen scientists soon got down to spotting, identifying, counting and recording the birds that had braved the bitter weather. First off were 15 Common Gulls, a small gaggle of 5 Greylag Geese and large groups of Woodpigeon and Lapwing, who were feeding in the amongst the winter wheat. Single Herring and Black Headed Gulls joined the party before we were treated to a double raptor hit of a swooping Kestrel and a soaring Buzzard. Despite having fingers that were numbed to the bone, the plucky Year 4s also noted weather conditions and physical land features and were lucky enough to spot some wonderfully camouflaged Brown Hares before we headed off to Site 2, by the pheasant pens and bio-mass storage areas.


We hunkered down as best we could in the dip between fields and once more clamped binoculars to eyes. A gorgeous Buzzard appeared above the large tree clump and cover crop zone, treating pupils to really good views before it spooked large flocks of around 30 Woodpigeons and 40 Lapwings. It was especially nice to see so many Lapwings around the farmland as these birds have been really struggling in recent years. It was feeling almost like an Arctic expedition now, so we retreated to the warmth of the mini-bus to finish our survey and managed to add Carrion Crow, Herring Gull and Jackdaw to the species list.

With birds counted and fingers thawed it was time for the Year 4s to head back to school to share their new ornithological knowledge and to upload their survey results to the GWCT website. These citizen science projects are playing an increasingly important role in developing conservation methods and we were all very pleased to have played our part.

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