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Woodlark survey - 5th April 2006

Survey carried out for the British Trust for Ornithology and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (details here)

The second of the 'walks' to cover the Woodlark Survey was to the south of Overton, taking in farmland, woodland and gardens about Whitehill, this taking place on 5th April.

With the temperature standing at just 2½°C and a brisk northerly wind it was hardly ideal but there was a cloudless blue sky and strong sunlight, many birds were in song and so nothing was impossible.

Walking south down the minor road from close to the reservoir crowning the hill a Yellowhammer was just one of the birds in song in the roadside hedgerows, Dunnocks being particularly obvious here and elsewhere during the almost 1½ hours of surveying. The first migrants noted where two Fieldfare, a winter visitor undoubtedly heading back north as the closest regular breeding sites are in Scotland. The open fields held a single Lapwing, many corvids and even more Woodpigeons. The latter were to be seen throughout the survey with several flocks of 50+ noted feeding on the grassland or in brassica fields. A Skylark was singing close to the reservoir. A single Blue Anemone was in flower on the verge, unlike the Primroses and Common Dog Violets that were flowering in profusion.

At the most southerly point of the survey square a recently ploughed field held a further two Lapwing, more unusually, a party of 60 Golden Plover, many in reasonable breeding apparel, were using the field as a stop-over point as they headed north for their breeding grounds. This was only the second Parish flock noted this year. A pair of Yellowhammers showed superbly on the roadside hedgerow whereas a flock of ten+ about the nearby sheep pens were far more skittish. It was in this area that the only House Sparrows were noted, making the most of the food unintentionally provided by Southley Farm.

Moving back northwards past Lower Whitehill Farm a Goldcrest was heard in their garden conifer belt and a Linnet was heard over the field where the track divided.

A Meadow Pipit was another, presumed, migrant added, this also on the way further north after wintering perhaps nearer the coast or even possibly close by on the rough pastures and grassland readily available about the village. The most obvious residents at this point were the Brown Hares, a total of nine being seen within the survey area with several being very close to hand.

The first Buzzard seen was some way off to the south-west, a further four soon being added as they circled over woodland well to the west.

An area of new plantation at the western edge of the area held singing Chaffinch and Wren and many 'roosting' Woodpigeons, the vantage point here allowing views for many miles over the surrounding countryside. Rooks, Jackdaws and Woodpigeons being the prominent species scattered over the fields.

Moving back northwards, again, the field over which the Linnet noted earlier flew now had a flock of ten birds that showed well as they sat in a barren-looking tree. Brown Hares were again evident here with three being seen together. A male Kestrel headed eastwards across the fields, low and, I expect, menacing to smaller beasties amongst the crops and rough grasses.

A diversion to cover another area of new tree growth provided the first of the additions for the year, two Wheatears that were sheltering high on the hill behind a water trough. On my approach the bright white of their rumps, Wheatear being derived from "white arse" as they flew off signalled the 82nd species being confirmed. This was a species that was hoped for but not guaranteed this year, their movements through the Parish being sporadic and often weather related - a nice bonus! An adult Lesser Black-backed Gull dropped into the adjacent sheep field. After making the most of these birds the return journey back to the main path saw a male Swallow heading south, number 83! Though heading the wrong way I had no problem adding this totally expected species. To the south three Roe Deer could be seen in the field south of the 'dog field' and off on other compass points two more Brown Hares were on the Laverstoke Park Estate fields.

The sixth Buzzard of the walk was seen south of the reservoir and then the seventh was added as it flew over the Frost Hill area - the visibility was certainly improving! The Lesser Black-backed Gull had been joined by four more, all adults / near adults, and these then left to the north-east; the sound of 'seagulls' ringing out over the fields south of Jackson's Copse.

Though the survey was completed there was still a way to go, no car, no lift and too good a day to give up the watching had another 30+ minutes walking before reaching home.

The sheep field to the east of Turrill Hill Farm had a busy corvid flock feeding amongst the livestock, 160+ Jackdaws, ten+ Rooks and two+ Carrion Crows making up this vision of black. A female Kestrel was patrolling the southern perimeter and was seen to have a white primary in her right wing. A pure white, presumed, racing pigeon was the most unexpected sighting of the outing, being sat atop a conifer in Jackson's Cope over which a Buzzard flew. Another of the latter was hovering over the disused De La Rue 'pit', this being a very pale bird somewhat reminiscent of Red-tailed Hawk.

The 'lane' back to the 'dog field' held a single Seven-spot Ladybird, the first I had noted this year, but surprisingly few birds were apparent, this remaining the same as I entered back into the areas of housing in and off Dellands.

The total of 31 species recorded was noticeably down on the previous survey work, this due to the less diverse habitats covered and particularly the lack of bodies of water. The lack of species was more than made up for by the two new species for the year, 60 Golden Plovers, the nine Buzzards, ten Linnets, two Kestrels, five Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Meadow Pipit and the fields that looked like a barbers' shop - Hare everywhere!

Species recorded (31):

Blackbird, Blue Tit, Buzzard (7), Carrion Crow, Chaffinch, Dunnock, Fieldfare (2), Golden Plover (60), Goldcrest, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, House Sparrow, Jackdaw, Kestrel (male), Lapwing (4), Lesser Black-backed Gull (5), Linnet (10), Long-tailed Tit, Magpie, Meadow Pipit (1), Pheasant, Pied Wagtail, Robin, Rook, Skylark (3), Song Thrush, Swallow (1), Wheatear (2), Woodpigeon, Wren, Yellowhammer (17+).


Brown Hare.

Also seen, but added after the survey was completed:

Buzzard (2), Kestrel (female), 'racing pigeon' (1), Skylark (2), Brown Hare (1), Seven-spot Ladybird (1).

I have just realised that I never mentioned Woodlarks! No real surprise, none were found.

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Peter E. Hutchins

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