The collective noun for Skylarks is ‘an exaltation’ and had it not been for the overcast skies and an earlier brief shower of rain I am sure we would have seen a greater number as there are around 20-30 breeding pairs on the farm. A little later when the sun appeared several male skylarks ascended steeply upwards, hung in the sky warbling with gusto before dropping back to the ground.
Wick Farm extends to 220 hectares of which the majority is given over to mixed arable farming. Martin Smith, who owns the farm, has a great interest in birds and wildlife and we were very pleased that he could spare the time to escort the sixteen members of the Bird Group who attended today, on a ‘walk-talk’ around the farm. He told us that this year everything was about three weeks behind. Near the farmhouse and adjacent outbuilding 6-7 pairs of swallows were nesting and in a nest box there had earlier been a breeding Barn Owl but sadly the outcome was not a happy one – but it did give Martin a chance to clear the box ready for the next residents. In another barn a bird visited frequently to roost and visible signs were on the floor. On inspection the many pellets were found to contain much soft matter but with no sign of bones, and Martin explained they could only be from a Kestrel.
Walking east along the main track we reached a field recently sown with bird mix which Starlings were enjoying in great numbers as well as a Pied Wagtail and also a group of Linnets a small, lively and sociable finch with the male now sporting its pink-red chest. According to the RSPB the Linnet is a Red Status bird that is it has ‘the highest conservation priority, with species needing urgent action’.
Martin had hoped to attract Corn Buntings by planting specific winter bird food for them and we did see several but he has competition from across the river at Wallasea and fears many have found a new home there. On the western margin of this field is sown a section of wildflower mix. Elsewhere our local beekeeper (our Chairman, Peter) has some hives so as you can see this farm is doing a great deal to help the birds and the wildlife in general.
Not only is it birds that visit here but badger, hare, fox, water voles and the occasional muntjac deer but fortunately not rabbit or mink. Partridge and Turtle Doves are also not present this year.
A short way on is a copse which unfortunately is 80% Ash so it is a waiting game to see if Ash Die-back will affect them all: the disease has apparently now reached South Woodham Ferrers. On the bright side smaller trees planted from seeds from passing birds are already starting to get established so if the Ash does die nature will take over and the new growth shoot up into the vacant spaces. A nest box placed high in the trees is home to Stock Doves and also a Sparrow Hawk is nesting in the trees. The reservoir had Coot and Tufted Ducks on it and here Tern platforms have been built: we saw Common Terns flying by but they haven’t as yet used the platforms.
Sometimes one’s best efforts are not successful and today we shared with Martin one of his disappointments. We were looking across a field to ‘the scrape’, a reed edged pond, and beyond that behind a fence extends a field of crops. Sheep have ‘closely’ grazed the field around ‘the scrape’. The combination of these factors provides the right environment to encourage Lapwings to breed and raise their young. It was thought that at least one pair had successfully bred this year. Today though two Crows were confidently walking near the nest site and with no apparent defence of the site from the Lapwings Martin concluded they were no longer there. To make matters worse a male Marsh Harrier was also present and shortly after a female too – even worse for the Lapwings. An informative sign details the making of ‘the scrape’ and says that in previous years some Lapwings have bred successfully. There are several of these informative signs around the farm.
Although the Marsh Harriers were bad news for the Lapwings we were thrilled to see them and equally later in the day to see a Hobby as it flew by. The Hobby is unusual among European falcons as it is a summer visitor from Africa arriving here in April and leaving in October.
We heard the Reed Warbler before we saw it quite well hidden amongst the reeds and a surprise was seeing a Blue Tit feeding there, hanging upside down. Many seabirds flew over including Redshank and a selection of Gulls.
We saw and learnt a lot of interesting things today and I think that had we been without the guidance of Martin we would not have been able to identify some of the birds nor would we have found others and we certainly would not have known who occupied which nest box and what was going on with the farm itself; we were very grateful to have had the chance to share his knowledge. Thanks also to Jimmy & Barbara for making ‘the caravan’ available to us.
Birds identified: Great and Blue Tits, Chaffinch, Sparrow, Blackbird, Starling, Pied Wagtail, Linnet, Skylark, Corn Bunting, Reed Warbler, Swallow, Collared Dove, Wood Pigeon, Rook, Crow, Magpie, Tufted Duck, Coot, Mallard, Marsh Harrier, Hobby, Common Tern, Black-headed, Herring & Black-backed Gulls.