When we visited the church at Sibsey, we noticed a sign about the God’s Acre Project. It seems to be a nature conservation project which manages churchyards for wildlife, in addition to their primary purpose of containing graves.
It seems like a good idea, and after being developed in Lincolnshire has been adopted by some Kent churches too.
It’s difficult to see a downside to the idea, as many churchyards are, to be fair, not kept in a manicured condition. It seems sensible to make a virtue of this and help develop the wildlife potential of the area.
Here are some pictures of the spring flowers at Sibsey. I note that they have nest boxes up too, as they have a number of mature trees, including an avenue of limes.
Winter Aconites – Sibsey
The stump of cross is, it seems, a Grade 2 listed and a Scheduled Monument. I know we value our old bits and pieces, but this seems over the top for a bit of broken cross. If it was that important they should have looked after it better.
To be honest with you, I’d rather see some of the gravestones scheduled and looked after, rather than a bit of stone which looks tough enough to look after itself.
Remains of the Churchyard Cross
It was just a flying visit on Wednesday, to give me a start on the research for The Talk, as I am beginning to think of it. There is quite a lot more to see, and I’m sure a few leaves on the trees will encourage avian activity around the nest boxes.
The Butterfly Count is upon us for 2017 and Julia is preparing the materials for the group.
We had a preparatory look in the garden on Friday to get some idea of what was about, and had a good result, considering it was a cold day. The buddleia didn’t attract much (possibly because it’s planted in a shady spot) but the mint attracted a lot of pollinators and the Mint Moths. (Mint Moths are only about quarter of an inch across (6mm) in real life – don’t go looking for something the same size as the photo). I didn’t see butterflies on the mint, but they were mainly seen in the area around the mint.
There was also an unidentified white, an unidentified brown (probably Meadow Brown or Gatekeeper) and an unidentified brown Skipper.
We need to add a few more plants around the place – more buddleia would be good, and oregano used to attract a lot of butterflies when we were at the Ecocente. Although the Mencap garden isn’t anywhere near as good as the Centre garden for attracting butterflies, it’s still as exciting to try to spot new species and plan to attract more. We have a few buddleia seedlings to donate and I’ll have to persuade Julia to grow oregano.
The last week has been reasonably good in the house garden (which is a bit of a butterfly wasteland), with Small Tortoiseshell, Large White and Orange Underwing moth all seen this week. There are Mint Moths in a herb garden along the street and I live in hope of seeing another Hummingbird Hawk Moth on the Red Valerian like we did (twice) in 2015.
Time to start giving some serious thought to our own garden, after a year of hacking back in 2016.
I’m slightly ambivalent towards buddleia as it’s a non-native species and can be considered a pest. I think it’s best summed up here by Butterfly Conservation – it’s a valuable source of nectar and is OK in gardens. However, it doesn’t feed caterpillars and it can be invasive in the wrong place.
There are other plants to feed butterflies and caterpillars, as this list shows.
Just a few more photographs of the Kites – I finally found the energy to crop a few into respectability.
Red Kites at Gigrin Farm
We may call them Red, and from a distance they may look brown like a Buzzard, but in fact they are a stunning combination of grey, black and red-brown, with some looking quite different to others when you see them side by side.
Red Kite with wing tags
It looks like this one has a wing tag on, which will be colour-coded and numbered. The “proper” photographer in the hide managed to read the number off the tag, but he had much more impressive equipment than I do. I can barely see the tag.
Light blue on the right wing indicates a bird from the Irish Republic.
Red Kite in Wales
Sorry they aren’t better shots,. I’ve taken steps to rectify the problems with my photographic situation, but I’ve been disappointed by the Lottery before so I’m not going to hold my breath.
As you know, we went to Gigrin Farm last week to watch the Kite feeding. It was quite an experience. It seems to be quite a popular thing to do, as there are two other sites who feed kites – one at Llanddeusant and another at Bwlch Nant yr Arian. They may not all offer the number of kites seen at Gigrin, but even 50 kites are a majestic sight.
The growth from a couple of pairs in the 1950s is an epic story. In the rest of the UK they have done it by importing stock from Spain, Sweden and Germany, but in Wales they have done it all by improving the environment. The fact that Buzzards (another big, lazy predator) has recently done well suggests that things are working with the birds (lack of gamekeepers and plenty of rabbits being big factors).
Their predilection for dead prey does help – you can’t imagine Goshawks and Peregrines coming down for a scoop of ground beef.
Things are going so well we are actually using our own Kites to repopulate the UK and have actually sent some back to Europe.
The only place they aren’t doing well is the north of Scotland, a heavily keepered area. You may draw your own conclusions. You might also want to look here for reports of crimes against Kites and other raptors.
But on a more positive note, have a look at the photos and imagine the loud claps as they strike wings with their neighbours. If you are lucky you can even see the two birds falling from the sky after colliding. Unfortunately I couldn’t catch it on film.
There are other birds on the farm too. What you don’t see is that it then doubled back to have another go at the reflection. I’m not sure it’s good for the mental health of the peacock but it seemed reasonably happy.
I always like to look out for Buzzards on the way down to Peterborough as there are plenty of places to see them.
When I was a youthful birdwatcher, around 10 or 11 years old, I was fascinated by Buzzards, which were not as easy to see in those days. From Peterborough we had to go to Scotland, The Lakes, Devon or Wales before finding any. Even then they weren’t common.
Gamekeepers killed so many that they were confined to the north and west of the UK by the end of the 19th century. Things eased up a bit after the Second World War – said on the RSPB website to be due to a new enlightened attitude to birds of prey, though it might have been more to do with the decline in country estates and a lack of keepers. At that point other factors came into play, such as lack of rabbits (due to myxomatosis) and problems with pesticides (which caused thin egg shells and reduced hatchability).
From the 1960s, with the withdrawal of the pesticides and the increase of rabbit populations, Buzzards started to recover. From the 1990s they started to expand. First I saw them in Derbyshire, then Sherwood Forest, then over Bulwell Golf Course…
Now I can see them all the way down to Peterborough.
Of course, they weren’t the only bird to suffer – Peregrines, Red Kites, Sparrowhawks, Kestrels, Marsh Harriers and other birds of prey all suffered. Red Kites were down to 10 pairs in the 1930s (up to 500 pairs by 2006 due to the reintroduction programme started in 1989). Marsh Harriers were down to 1 pair in 1971 (now up to 360 breeding pairs due to habitat restration). Peregrines slumped to 360 pairs in 1963 (now up to 1,400 pairs, often nesting on tall buildings instead of cliffs. You can watch them on a number of video links from Nottingham, Derby, Sheffield and Norwich if you don’t mind the detritus of dismantled pigeons around the nestlings.) Even Sparrowhawks and Kestrels declined significantly.
Things aren’t all good, though. Sparrowhawks declined again in the 1990s, though they are now stable. Kestrels are currently in decline. In both cases this is thought to be due to a decline in prey species. That’s the trouble with being a bird of prey, you can only expand to the limit of your food supply.
My count was three Kestrels, two hovering and one flying by the roadside.
I also saw eleven Buzzards. Yes, eleven. One in a tree followed by four perching on the lamp posts as the A52 comes up to the A1. There was another in a tree, two more on a field looking for worms (they have no pride) and an ninth as I neared Stamford. That one was flying, and I initially hoped it would be a Red Kite. If anyone had told the young me that I’d be disappointed to see nine Buzzards on a trip to Peterborough I’d have laughed. There were two more to come, one on a road sign (I’ve never seen them do that before) and one in a tree.
Finally, soaring over the site of an old Roman town, I spotted a Red Kite. Just the one, but it was nice to see.
Red Kite over Northamptonshire
The Buzzard photo is from the lawn at Rufford earlier this week, and the Kite from Northamptonshire last summer.
No photos from today, as you can’t do much photography at 70 mph.