Female WheatearThese small birds are in the Robin sub-family (Chats and Wheatears). They breed in uplands and other rough, open spaces including sand dunes, but they spend the winter in Africa, coming back to northern Europe in early spring. 
Some of them even travel to Greenland, a massive distance over open seas for such a small bird. The one I saw today was on ‘chat corner’ on the way to Hardwick Wood. I have been the volunteer warden at Hardwick Wood for many years, having previously been part of the volunteer group that helped the previous warden, Jean Benfield. When she decided to hang up her wardening boots, she asked me and my partner if we would take it on, which we agreed to. She took us up the track that leads to the wood – it is a private drive with special permission for the wood wardens – and as we went round a bend on this track she said ‘this is a good spot for Wheatears in spring’ – and pretty much every year we have seen them there! In the autumn it also attracts Stonechats, so we have renamed it Chat corner to include both species. The Wheatear is a true sign of spring, a stunning looking little bird with black wings, a black-and-white tail, blue-grey back, peachy breast and a stripy face. 

Barn Owl FledgingJean Benfield, by the way, was an important early friend of the CRT, a Barton resident who’s garden overlooked the ’98 land of Lark Rise Farm. She decided that it would be a good place for a barn owl box, and true enough the barn owls bred there first, and have done so almost every year since. She died shortly after passing on the wardening duties to us, and the new householders have been most pleased to have inherited a garden with barn owls, welcoming us every year to continue with the chick ringing that Jean initiated. As well as the barn owl box, she also introduced harvest mice to the farm, and the population of those are still going strong today, no doubt some of them forming the occasional owl snack!

Dr Vince Lea
Head of Wildlife Monitoring 

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