Easter Monday was back to the lock-down. In fact, I participated in the Cambridgeshire Bird Club Easter Lockdown Bird Race. The idea was to see how many species you could see in a 12 hour period, with only one hour allowed out of the house and garden for a walk – no driving or cycling allowed (to make it a bit fairer for everyone). I chose to complete my 12 hours between 6am-6pm. Of course, the people living in the best places had the best chances of seeing a good range, particularly anyone with a decent wetland nearby. Living in the village of Barton, with Lark Rise Farm on the doorstep, gave me a decent chance of seeing some species.

32 people took part, and I came a creditable sixth with 50 species exactly. The winner had a nice gravel pit nearby and managed 75 species in his day.

Between us, we saw a total of 101 species in Cambridgeshire on the day, some species were ubiquitous, like wood pigeon and blue tit, but others were only seen once. I managed the only grey partridge, thanks no doubt to Tim Scott and his dedication to being the champion farmer with grey partridge! 

My strategy was to jog round Lark Rise Farm for the first hour, 6am-7am, with a notebook in my pocket and binoculars over one shoulder, this got me 43 species. Of course, I know the site well enough to know where the best spots to see certain species are which means I could save a lot of time running between those sites and make the most of my one hour’s freedom.

Unfortunately, the cold strong wind probably curtailed the activity of some species, and I didn’t see a barn owl and the corn buntings kept themselves to themselves. The weather also reduced any further bird migration but I did hear my first whitethroat of the year. Other highlights of my brief farm tour were seeing the lapwing still firmly on her nest site, a kingfisher zoomed under the road bridge and hearing the willow warblers still in the spinney.

Once back home, the rest of the day dragged bird-wise. I spent most of the day gardening, peering over the hedge across the farmland behind my house from time to time. It was interesting to see the steady stream of pedestrians on the footpath there; normally it is unused for weeks on end, today there were people on it all day, despite the chill wind. All suitably spaced apart, of course!

Between the bouts of gardening, I went indoors and stared out of the upstairs window across the fields on the other side of the house. This higher vantage point got me a line towards the small agricultural reservoirs a mile away, sufficiently close to be able to see a couple of gull species through the telescope.

HarrisI also spotted five other species from home, that had not been seen on the farm run round – kestrel, sparrowhawk, heron, mistle thrush and our local speciality, an escaped Harris’s hawk (an American species, popular in falconry). This bird escaped a few years ago and has been living in the fields around us ever since, occasionally trying his luck with the local female buzzards! Despite using the telescope to stare at the bottom of every hedge in sight, I failed to see one locally common species, the red-legged partridge, and a few other regulars failed to show up, but I was happy with 50.

One species that everyone saw was of course the blackbird, and I had no trouble finding one of those, with the nesting pair still busy feeding the chicks. They have grown a lot since we ringed them, and their beaks now poke up over the rim of the nest – the photo shows how well hidden the nest is, this was taken from a metre away at the only angle you can get a view into the nest from!

Dr Vince Lea
Head of Wildlife Monitoring 

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