Woodlark survey

Woodlark survey - 5th May 2006

Survey carried out for the British Trust for Ornithology and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds

The fifth of the 'walks' to cover the British Trust for Ornithology Woodlark Survey was again to the south of Overton, taking in the farmland, woodland and gardens about White Hill, this taking place during the morning of 5th May.

With the temperature being recorded as 13oC on the way to the start point, this was the warmest yet that any survey work had been carried out in. This rose to 14½°C by the finish, some 92 minutes later, with the light south-west / westerly wind bringing in much high clouding that started to disappear part way through the walk. Heavy dew on the noticeably increased vegetative growth helped keep at least the lower extremities cooler!

The most southerly part of the survey area, between Lower Whitehill and Southley Farms, had two Swallows and two singing Whitethroats as the first of the migrants to be noted, the former looking to use the barn of the more northerly dwelling as their summer abode. Two Skylarks were also in song, both over fields adjacent to the road to Micheldever and both very vocal. Goldfinches and Chaffinches were about the hedgerows and overhead wires whilst Rooks kept to the sheep fields or moved to and fro from other local feeding areas. A singing Yellowhammer remained hidden in the rapidly leafing hedgerows.

The fields east of Pilgrims Farm held further Yellowhammer and a pair of Linnet were soon followed by a single bird, both species a positive thing as they are generally in decline, like so many other 'farmland' birds, throughout the country. A pair of Lapwings held territory high on the busiest sheep field and Carrion Crow was heard amongst the other corvids. The adjacent woodland had Great and Blue Tits, singing Dunnock, Blackbird and Wren with an angry Grey Squirrel 'growling' at me. Moving back towards the main road, a pale Buzzard could be seen sitting in a recently vacated cattle field.

A pair of Mistle Thrush was in the conifers about Lower Whitehill Farm and here Robin could be heard in song. Greenfinches were in more obviously ornamental conifers, a Collared Dove flew across the back garden and House Sparrows could be heard chattering in the denser scrub.

Taking the road, and hill, westwards towards Laverstoke Grange Farm another Whitethroat was in song near the 'plantation' and three Swallows were low over the highest fields. The searching of fence posts provided nothing, the hoped for Whinchat, Yellow Wagtail and Spotted Flycatchers not adding themselves to the years' list. Magpie was the last addition from the crow family whereas the first game birds, two cock Pheasants, were only heard crowing off in the distance. Also heard were a further three male Yellowhammers, all in song. A Small Tortoiseshell was seen to fly over the road into the fields.

The plantation itself was very quiet, only Woodpigeons being flushed from the trees, a Chaffinch or two holding territory and two doe Roe Deer bolting off over the hill. The vegetation was markedly more extravagant here now and the number of arachnids, and their webs, had increased dramatically. A Speckled Wood alighted on a sunlit trunk, the light showing through the paler 'spots' on the wings as it made the most of the mid-morning warmth.

Heading back to Lower Whitehill Farm and then turning northwards, up the track towards the village, the Buzzard was seen again, this time gliding over the fields and copse south of the hill crest. Yellowhammers and Linnets put in further appearances by the road but little else stirred in the fields that now held burgeoning crops. Skylarks were continuously evident on moving up and over White Hill, several being in the air throughout. Another Yellowhammer was in song.

The detour to the 'Wheatear area' added little to the notebook, a Swallow there probably one of the Lower Whitehill Farm birds foraging further afield. A Brown Hare was seen off in the distance, on the western side of Turrill Hill, whilst a closer brown blob, that may have been a leveret, disappeared and remained unidentified. A single Red-legged Partridge skulked in the fence and hedgerow-side vegetation.

Dropping down the hill, and therefore out of the survey area, four Lapwings were amongst the sheep north of the De La Rue 'pit'. An adult Grey Heron flew westwards, possibly the bird seen sat in the field near the reservoir on a recent visit? A Kestrel flew north and three Starlings came in to feed amongst the sheep. The Greater Stitchwort flowering here showing that at one stage hedgerows and even woodland had been present, the Blackthorn flowers were still putting on a show and Hawthorn leaves looked good enough to eat - as indeed they are!

The track east to the main road runs through cereal fields where a small area of edging woodland still survives. Here, Bluebells, Greater Stitchwort, Ground Ivy and Dog's Mercury were in the shade whilst Lesser Periwinkle, dandelions, Cow Parsley and Green Alkanet preferred the more open field edges. Several shrews were very active, and vocal, in the deeper wooded vegetation. Eight Swallows were low over the fields, coming down to drink from a small puddle that was the only obvious water throughout the walk. Three Yellowhammers chased each other about the more mature trees before heading off elsewhere. A Blackcap was heard singing in the woodland flanking the road north to the village but, like many of the recently above, was outside the study area. Investigation of Stinging Nettle patches proved worthwhile; a Nursery Web Spider, Seven-spot Ladybird and Forest Bug all being found.

Nursery web spider
Nursery Web Spider, Pisaura mirablis, ©Mike Duffy

Heading back south, the sheep fields east of the main road held nothing but sheep! A Yellowhammer was heard north-east of the reservoir, as was a Linnet in flight, and Skylarks continued to fill the air with noise, often the only sign of their presence. The banks at the side of the road were now full of flowers - White Dead-nettle, vetch, strawberry and speedwell species, Changing Forget-me-not, Greater Celandine, Blue Anemone, Daisy and Ribwort Plantain being most prominent, though the Stinging Nettles, as usual, were making more than steady progress. The Buzzard appeared once again over the cereal fields, this dramatically pale individual being easy to pick out from any other local birds.

Only 30 species of bird were recorded, one less than on the previous survey carried out exactly a month before, with just three being birds in for the summer:

Blackbird, Blackcap (male), Blue Tit, Buzzard (1), Carrion Crow, Chaffinch, Collared Dove, Dunnock, Goldfinch, Great Tit, Greenfinch, Grey heron (W), House Sparrow, Jackdaw, Kestrel (male), Lapwing (6), Linnet (7), Magpie, Mistle Thrush (2), Pheasant, Red-legged Partridge (1), Robin, Rook, Skylark (9), Starling, Swallow (13), Whitethroat (3 male), Woodpigeon, Wren, Yellowhammer (11).

And: Brown Hare (1), Grey Squirrel (1), shrew sp. (3+), Forest Bug (2), Nursery Web Spider (female), Seven-spot Ladybird (2).

As with all of the previous survey jaunts, Woodlarks were not found.

hree areas remain to be covered at least once more, this so as to complete the local survey work prior to the end of May. Proposed dates for carrying out the three remaining 'squares' survey work are currently Monday 15th, Sunday 21st and Tuesday 23rd May. If anybody would like to accompany me on any of these dates please let me know as soon as you are able.

Woodlark survey

Peter E. Hutchins

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