A quick trip to Turnastone Court Farm

 The middle of February was a short taste of what winter can be, with frozen ground and snow. It was a real privilege to be able to travel for work purposes to Herefordshire and help Ruth with her training as our wildlife officer for those sites. On our first day, Awnells was still quite muddy, but the ground at Turnastone remained frozen solid all day long on the second day. 

Birds were quick to come to the feeding station at the Turnastone Lodge, and we had a good variety on our Big Farmland Bird Count. Then in the last week of February, signs of spring were suddenly everywhere; the weather took a handbrake turn!

Its technically still winter

February is still really wintertime, with short days and long nights. Still, wildlife often responds too enthusiastically to the warmth of what may turn out to be a false start to the spring run the risk of being set back again if we get another cold snap. Nonetheless, after a long, wet winter and the very cold snap, it was heartwarming to see so much promise of better days to come! I was particularly pleased to see that my bees survived the winter and were all flying out to enjoy their first taste of nectar. 

Brimstone Butterfly
On 20th January – a month later than usual for a first sighting – I also had my first butterfly sightings of the year; a bright yellow male brimstone making flights on warm, sunny days.

Bird song has increased dramatically, and some were starting to gather bits of nest material, particularly the early nesting long-tailed tits.

At the start of the month, I completed a bird survey on the Westfield part of Lark Rise Farm on 4th February, which included:

  • 1 snipe
  • 1 red kite
  • 30 reed bunting
  • 56 golden plover
  • 4 starlings
  • 4 corn bunting
  • 12 song thrush
  • 27 grey partridge
  • 90 skylarks
  • 113 linnets
  • 204 yellowhammer

Unfortunately, on 14th February, I undertook the Big Farmland Bird Count on the same part of the farm. There were ever so slightly less impressive but still included some of these red list highlights:

  • 58 skylarks
  • 4 grey partridge
  • 3 corn bunting
  • 76 yellowhammer

On Lark Rise Farm, lapwings started to claim their territories again; Farmer Tim Scott reported one just before the thaw, which rose to a count of five by the 24th February, which bodes well. There are plenty of wet patches in the fields, which may tempt them to stay on and nest once again.

Bountiful food for seed eaters

Corn bunting
Most birds are still in winter mode at this time of year, as it will still be a while before fresh seeds are available from vegetation. Often seed-eating birds struggle to find enough to eat. However, birds flock to Lark Rise Farm, where Tim leaves weedy patches, special seed-bearing crop mixes and hoppers of grain for birds to consume.

Most popular this year was a couple of acres of barley left unharvested on the edge of a field at Westfield, where I counted 87 buntings of three species in the half-hour Big Farmland Bird Count.

The unploughed stubbles left for spring cropping also support lots of weeds that produce smaller seeds suitable for Linnets, and over 80 of them were on the ’98 land February count. These birds don’t start nesting till late April at the earliest; they still have a long wait before food becomes plentiful enough to start breeding again.

Dr Vince Lea
Head of Wildlife Monitoring

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