Woodlark survey - 11th April 2006
Survey carried out for the British Trust for Ornithology and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
The fourth, and final, kilometre square was surveyed on 11th April. This took in the farmland and hedgerows to the north of Willesley Warren Farm on a dull and cool morning, with a brisk and even more chilling, south-westerly that hardly boded well - time was of the essence and so the only morning off during the week had to be used. 4½°C was recorded on the way out with this rising to just 7½°C on finishing the survey.
08:48, Willesley Warren Farm, the starting point immediately south of the square and then walking north towards Robley Belt, back west and south to the barns west of the farm and then east back to the starting area before continuing east towards Keepers Cottage, Frost Hill, north towards Polhampton Lodge Stud and back west and south along the original track taken - a figure of eight lying on its side walked to finish at 10:15.
The first area of hedgerow played host to some very active Chaffinches, chasing one another about and paying no attention to us as we walked past their territorial skirmish. Blackbird and Woodpigeon were soon noted, the former a single bird, the latter in small numbers but, later, increasing to several decent sized flocks flushed off nearby farmland. A Buzzard was off in the distance whereas singing Dunnocks were prominent in and about the still leafless cover. The first of many Red-legged Partridges hitched up their 'skirts' and galloped away up the track before deciding that the other side of the hedgerow was safer. This being noted on several occasions as we continued northwards, Pheasants on the other hand preferring the panic mode escape! A single Magpie was seen flying in the distance whilst the first migrant of the survey, a Chiffchaff, was close to hand in the open vegetation.
Gaps in the flanking hedges allowed viewing out over the cereal field, primarily winter wheat, and here the first Skylark could be seen as it gained height in its display flight; just three were noted, two being close to the northern edge of the survey area and one down in the south-west corner. Brown Hares were also using the fields for territorial outbursts, a group of five seen to canter about in a train before splitting and heading off to the more secure reaches of the fields' edges.
Pheasants, Carrion Crows and Great Tits were to be found in the most northerly parts of the south to north hedgerow and it was here that a Linnet moved over north-west.
Cutting back west and then south both Robin and Wren were noted in song and further flocks of seven and four Linnets passed over, all heading in a roughly northerly direction. A Song Thrush was repeating itself, but was just outside the specified area, and a Meadow Pipit moved north, also repeating itself, giving the 'seep seep' flight call as it moved over.
Jackdaws were about the barns west of the farmhouse and a 'pair' of Yellowhammers moved up from the same area, circled and headed back that way, managing to avoid the survey are in doing so!
Walking back east towards the start point the Chaffinches were still to be seen trying to prove who was best whilst a solitary Blue Tit obviously had no one to impress.
The more rolling aspect of the fields on the eastern side of the square held several pairs of Lapwing, these seen to harass a Buzzard as it came in to 'join' the bird noted much earlier. Very little else was to be found in this area, the hedgerows only giving shelter to more Red-legged Partridges and the 'barren' crop areas only providing a herd of five Roe Deer, one buck being present. Two Wheatears were found on the highest area, close to a disused building, possibly an extinct pigsty. These and the Chiffchaff being the only migrants noted during the survey.
The Roe Deer moved on, several Brown Hares did likewise and we were soon on the last leg, heading southwards down the track where we had initially moved north from the farm area. The last animal to be recorded was noted here as obvious signs of Moles could be seen crossing just under the path in several places.
House Sparrows, Long-tailed and Coal Tits were all added in the last area of hedgerow / farm buildings, as was a large Brown Rat; the latter trying to evade a meeting with us by climbing rapidly up a tree and into thick Ivy cover.
Though no Woodlarks were located, as is now anticipated, 26 species of bird were recorded; the lowest number to date:
Blackbird, Blue Tit, Buzzard (2), Carrion Crow, Chaffinch, Chiffchaff (1), Coal Tit, Dunnock, Great Tit, House Sparrow, Jackdaw, Lapwing (10), Linnet (12+), Long-tailed Tit, Magpie, Meadow Pipit (3), Pheasant, Red-legged Partridge (19), Robin, Rook, Skylark (3 singing), Song Thrush, Wheatear (2), Woodpigeon, Wren, Yellowhammer (2).
Also noted, on leaving the site, was a male Kestrel, this dropping down into the gardens behind Frost Hill Cottages.
On the 'wildlife' front it was again relatively quiet, just four species being recorded:
Brown Hare (9), Brown Rat (1), Mole (evidence of!), Roe Deer (5 - one buck).
There are now just four more visits to be made before the end of May, each of the squares already covered needing to be visited a further time.Woodlark survey
Peter E. Hutchins