This last week I’ve been extremely busy undertaking Red List Revival counts for Barton village and Westfield properties and lots of territory late April surveys for different parts of Lark Rise Farm - all bird survey work is on track so far. I’m hoping to catch up with more of the water vole surveying before the bankside vegetation gets any thicker but the rain, if it comes, can wash away tracks and prints so it will be a matter of seeing what can be done and when.

Lapwing news

Lapwing chicks I’ve also kept an eye on the lapwings both during bird surveys and after doing butterfly counts. Hatching was on 20th April, 24 days after first observation of the bird on the nest. Only two chicks were there close to the nest, with one egg unhatched on that date. On the 23rd, I had good views of the female with two chicks in the muddy stubbly bit that farmer Tim Scott so artfully created, but could not see the other adult or a third chick.

I went to the nest site, and was greeted by the dive-bombing male, so he’s still around… the third egg was still in the nest, it looks like the chick failed to hatch properly though it had developed inside the egg – it had managed to make a small hole in the shell but had failed to finish the process of splitting the shell in half. This is not something the parents can really help with, it is a rare unfortunate development fault. I don’t know whether the shell was extra tough, or the chick particularly weak. Interesting that despite being unguarded for three days, it had still not been taken by crows – there are a dozen or so juvenile crows in the general area, but the lapwings are very diligent at driving them away from the nesting territory.

Today, the pair were still present and both chicks were also seen, growing well. There is still, remarkably, plenty of wet mud and if it really does rain this week, they should be well set to continue on the road to fledging. I haven’t seen the second female since 9th April, although the crop is now tall enough to hide a sitting adult I am pretty sure she has moved on.

Survey summaries:

Westfield  

The species tally for the Red List Revival survey:

  • 22 Skylark
  • 20 Yellowhammer
  • 2 Grey Partridge
  • 2 Song Thrush
  • 4 Linnet

SkylarkUnfortunately the starlings weren’t to be seen during that visit, but one was seen going to the same nest site on yesterday’s territory mapping session. There will be a second count for the Red List, some time between mid-May and the end of June, so hopefully starlings and a better showing of grey partridge and linnet can be achieved, but it’s already looking good for skylark and yellowhammer.

On the territory visit yesterday, I also logged a yellow wagtail, which would be an additional Red List species to hope for next time. During a butterfly count, and again yesterday on the territory visit, I saw a kingfisher in the area near the telescope base. In this area there were two singing willow warblers and it is beginning to look like there is a sparrowhawk territory in the woods round there as well. Other less-often seen species from the territory visit were a pair of bullfinch, treecreeper singing near the meander and three or four singing lesser whitethroats dispersed around the area.

 

Tinkers, Telegraph and Warner’s Corner

Sadly the cuckoo which I heard in the area on the bee survey and Tim heard when attending to the orchard did not make an appearance during the 3.5 hours of the survey. But, I have been told of three calling at the nearby Trumpington Meadows reserve, just a mile or two down the Bourn Brook and well within a cuckoo’s flight range.

A barn owl in Bramble field at 08:40 am was the first one I’ve logged in all the bird surveys this spring, (basically because I haven’t been starting too early). The dusk surveys start next month, and I will also do a few extra early starts in June when they are more likely to be doing overtime if there are any chicks. We ring barn owl chicks to assist with population monitoring with the help of licensed Colin Sawyer, however, we're not sure if we'll be able to undertake this safely this year due to the ongoing situation. 

Other less regular species were a red kite and pair of tufted ducks flying past.

The brook area was, as ever, crowded with birds, including now a good set of warblers, there are plenty of whitethroats, one lesser whitethroat and several chiffchaffs and ten blackcaps. Skylarks are always thin on the ground in this survey area, but there are possibly five-six other territories. 

’98 Land 

This Red List tally was even better:

  • 21 Yellowhammer
  • 38 Skylark
  • 1 Lapwing
  • 7 Song Thrush
  • 1 Grey Partridge (they seem to have been in hiding for this survey again!)
  • 19 Linnet
  • 13 Corn Bunting

I had seen a total of 22 corn buntings before the survey started, but they dispersed by the time I got to them on the official survey. However, that figure was blown out of the water with today’s territory mapping visit. I first came upon a group of 14 in Blackthorns Field, but they flew off to the other side of the Bourn Brook. But then, 55 in one corn bunting flock in Catherine’s Field. The UK population estimate is 11,000 territories, so this represents about 0.25% of the UK corn buntings!

Once again, Red List numbers are just a snapshot of what might or might not be present on the given hour of the survey, another day I might have seen no corn buntings at all.

Today’s mapping visit also brought about another yellow wagtail, while on the butterfly walk last week there was a starling. If I can manage those two species on the second visit it will be our best year yet for that survey.

The other highlight from today’s survey was my second ring ouzel of the spring. There are even fewer of these in the UK, 7,300 pairs latest estimate, but whether this one was heading for British hills or on to Scandinavia is anyone’s guess – they are a passage migrant in our area.

Birds that definitely belong on the farm are the grey partridges – some of these probably spend their whole life on our land – and I detected three territories today. I think a lot are in hiding now the vegetation is a bit taller. There was a willow warbler in Millenium Wood and again, plenty of lesser and common whitethroats. And the Kestrel is back in the open fronted box at Roman Hill.

The rain coming so I’m now putting my feet up from the survey walks until it all starts again next month… oh that’s 4 days away!

Dr Vince Lea
Head of Wildlife 

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