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Woodlark survey - 21st May 2006

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

The penultimate kilometre square to be covered for the Woodlark Survey was covered early on Sunday 21st May in poor, and deteriorating, weather conditions that would certainly not have been to the liking of any Woodlarks, even if they had been present! 10½°C just after 06:00 rose only to 11°C by the time the survey had been completed, an hour later. Grey clouding was continuously present on a brisk south-westerly wind that hinted at rain throughout, a brief opening of the clouds, for sun luckily, was all too short-lived.

The area to be covered was that of the farmland, the linking hedgerows and the peripheral woodland to the north of Willesley Warren Farm and Cottages and south of the main road between Kingsclere and Whitchurch.

Much of the area was now crop covered and the previous nights' rain ensured that within seconds of entering such fields all clothing under waist height was soaked through! This remaining as such for the next three hours!

The buildings about the 'farm yard' held the only House Sparrows noted in the area, these however being just south of the square, as was the case for the first of several pairs of Red-legged Partridge seen. Another pair were using the hedgerow flanked track that runs north from the farm, in the company of a browsing Roe Deer; whether buck or doe was never known, the lack of disturbance meaning that only the nether regions were ever seen. Wren, Woodpigeon and Chaffinch were added immediately, these being the commonest species noted throughout the square, both in numbers tallied and the number of territories being announced.

Pheasants and Yellowhammers were soon added by call, both heard on crossing the first field, which held cereals and little else, but a Brown Hare and Rabbits. Skylarks were paying little attention to the inclement weather and were singing high over the green 'desert' whilst both Rooks and Jackdaws moved to and from the barns on the western side of the far; the seed spill here keeping them from their natural food.

Two Buzzards were sat on a ploughed field, soon leaving as I intruded on their creepy-crawly breakfast.

The same area held a pair of acrobatic Lapwing with another pair a little further to the north. Two Stock Doves flew south and a single Carrion Crow was vocal in the hedgerow splitting the square into two. The same hedgerow, and others, was the home of Dunnocks whilst Blackcap and Robin seemed to be intent on housing themselves only adjacent to the survey area! One of the former did however put in an appearance on the very southern edge, singing to no neighbours though.

The cereal fields remained seemingly lifeless apart from occasional Skylarks, Red-legged Partridges and Brown Hares, all involved in summer antics!

A female Sparrowhawk was seen gliding south to the west of the square and a further two Stock Doves were also off to the west, this time feeding rather than just passing through. A cock Pheasant, again out of the 'proper' area, was the only one seen during the walk.

Nearing the end of the survey a solitary Collared Dove flew towards the farm buildings, where another was in song. A Linnet was heard overhead and two Blackbirds were vocal in the trees flanking the rougher, and disused, ground north of the farmhouse. A single Pheasant egg and a primary from an immature gull were on the ground by the track, signs of things that had visited the square prior to the survey but were not seen during it.

The quietest, and quickest, survey to date, just 18 species located within the square and a further five being seen or heard about the outskirts during the hour of wandering:

Blackcap (1 singing & 2 singing outside), Buzzard (2), Carrion Crow, Chaffinch, Collared Dove (1 over), Dunnock, Jackdaw, Lapwing (4), Linnet (1 over), Pheasant, Red-legged Partridge (11 in & 6 outside), Rook, Skylark (7 - six singing), Song Thrush, Stock Dove (2 over & 2 outside), Woodpigeon, Wren, Yellowhammer (2)...

and Brown Hare (8 & 2 outside), Rabbit (2), Roe Deer (1).

Also noted, but outside the survey area were: Blackbird, House Sparrow, Magpie, Robin, Sparrowhawk (female).

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Peter E. Hutchins

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