Big Farmland Bird Count – part 1

It’s been a frustrating day today, with our first crack at the Big Farmland Bird Count.

At 9.10 am I had the telescope set up on a buzzard sitting in the big tree across the field. Although we’ve often seen it go there, this was the first time it had given us such a clear view.

Of course, at 9.55 am it decided to move on, never to be seen again. After that people arrived and we were kept busy for a couple of hours before we could settle down for the count.

What had been skies full of birds abruptly emptied and we found ourselves staring out on a birdless prairie. I really don’t know how they do it. One day you can be sitting in the car waiting to go, or just looking idly out of the window and you’ll see a barn owl, a great spotted woodpecker or a charm of goldfinches, but the next (when you are deliberately looking), there’s nothing.

Well, next to nothing. We saw chaffinches, robins, dunnocks, blackbirds, wood pigeons, a blue tit, a wren and a starling. I’d seen most of them yesterday when I spent an hour cleaning up in my back garden in Nottingham. The only bright spot in the half hour was when three yellowhammers turned up. You don’t see them in Nottingham.

We’ve seen some good stuff from here – a kestrel chasing a buzzard (twice), a buzzard chasing a barn owl and a sparrowhawk struggling to gain altitude with a pigeon clutched in its talons. And before you ask, no, I don’t know why they do it, apart from the sparrowhawk. Anyone who has seen me struggling home with a large pie will recognise that behaviour. What we haven’t seen is crows or rooks mobbing a sparrowhawk, which you would expect to see as we have plenty of sparrowhawks and plenty of corvids. However, when it comes down to it, we’ve probably spent less than 24 hours watching interesting birds out of the last three years, so the chances of seeing something notable are about one in a thousand.

We’re counting again on Wednesday with the full group – here’s hoping we’ll see something interesting.

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