Here’s an update on the Common Bird Census visits for early May, and a few other bird observations from the last 10 days or so.

Lapwing update

To start at the end, yesterday afternoon I watched the lapwings from the Land Rover cab and confirmed one chick still present and growing well. This doesn’t mean there is only one left, the second could easily remain in hiding. They are still small and highly camouflaged, and there are some deep ruts and dense stubbles for them to hide in.

The population modellers have calculated that a productivity of 0.7 chicks per pair per year is sufficient to maintain a lapwing population, anything higher can help a population to grow, so even if we only get one chick reared it would be a good result.

The visible chick was moving around in and out of view and quite distant from the adult female, while the male was about 400m away on watch. I set up a trail camera (to record while I was on another part of the farm completing a butterfly survey), to see if we could get some footage for the website etc and perhaps catch the second chick, but once again without luck.

I studied the birds before I collected the camera and it seems the presence of something strange was enough to deter them – the chick had moved over to the male’s watch point and was feeding in the crop instead of using the wet patch. The female had moved another 400m away to keep watch from a different point. There had been a sparrowhawk in the area just before I set-up the camera and the lapwings mobbed and drove it off as well as they do with the crows, but this may be the reason for the chick move. 

Corn buntings have not been quite so abundant since the 'bonanza bird count', last time. They are often late in the day when it comes to singing, and sadly none were heard or seen on the territory mapping visit on the 5th May, but three were present on the butterfly survey on the 2nd and one was heard singing on the 7th. Chances are, the winter flocking mode has now come to an end and birds are dispersing to find suitable breeding sites. Whether they will settle on Lark Rise Farm remains to be seen.

There was the first sighting of a barn owl on the ’98 land survey programme for 2020, but other than that it was all the usual species in all the right places and quite a good showing from the grey partridges (sometimes they like to hide) – this time around six pairs were seen. The fact that they were all in pairs suggests they are not yet incubating eggs, although egg-laying may be underway. Incubation starts when the full clutch is laid, and sometimes that can be a long while, laying an egg a day and building up double-figure clutches.

A couple of swallows were spotted heading northwards, showing that migration is still well underway. Swallows and martins have been a bit late this year.

The most unusual bird seen in the area was a marsh harrier, but of course that was on a butterfly survey rather than the official bird count!

Westfield had a few more ‘new for the year’ birds, with house martin, hobby and cuckoo all logged! There was also a reed warbler singing from the lake in the garden of the adjacent property.

StarlingI can now confirm a starling territory on the site, as audible young could be heard coming from an old woodpecker hole in an ash tree hanging over the Bourn Brook. The adults were collecting food from the sheep grazing field on the other side of the brook. This is the first territory at Westfield since 2006!

The hobby was also very good to see, it was flying around the tall willows near the old telescope base, and actually landed on a dead branch in full view which was rather wonderful – they are normally seen just as a passing shape in high speed flight. This one settled for a few minutes then flew round the clump of trees calling, which could be a sign that it is claiming a territory. Far too soon to speculate on that but they rarely call except near a nest site.

There were two pairs and a single of grey partridge.

Kingfisher was heard again along the brook, it seems there is a breeding pair in the area? 

I’ll be doing more surveys at different parts of the farm over the weekend, then back to Westfield and the ’98 land next week for the dawn surveys, and shortly after that the first dusk surveys are due.

Dr Vince Lea
Head of Wildlife Monitoring 

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