Bird life is part of our farm calendar.
Winter is woodcock season. A neighbour who used to rough shoot here tells us that it’s the best woodcock land in the county. A night out hunting in a kinder fashion- with Paddy the local bird ringer- showed that this might be true, with almost 30 birds gathered in one field to feed on the worms in the healthy soil.
Late winter can be a quiet time, although livened by the croak of ravens tumbling overhead, the display flight of the resident goshawks, and the snipe springing out of their marshy hideouts . Warm days bring the songbirds back- first the song thrush and blackbird start their morning song, then the skylark lifts up over the top fields and soon the swallows are back to fight over the nest space in the barn.
May sees the bramble thickets fill up with warblers- we have blackcaps, garden warblers, whitethroats and lesser whitethroats in good numbers. Sparrowhawks work these field edges, picking off the unwary.
By mid-summer, the birds go quiet again as they work hard to raise their young. We come across nests here and there – great tits in an old beehive, pied wagtails in the tractor cab, wrens in the wool of the shed roof, reed buntings in a rush tussock. Family parties then appear – the long-tailed tits swinging through the hazels, bright young willow warblers, once a young lesser spotted woodpecker with parent.
The summer birds start melting away in August, and we’re left with flocks of goldfinches on the thistles, bullfinches beating us to the ripening blueberries and perhaps a sight of the barn owl drifting over the newly mown hay meadows.
We notice migration flights on some autumn days – not with the numbers seen in classic watchpoints like Skomer and Skokholm, but often in tune with them. Movements of woodpigeons, skylarks and redwings can be enlivened by the occasional call of tree pipit, crossbill or whimbrel which gets us looking up. Unusual visitors can turn up at any time though – the four glossy ibis around Christmas one year, the lost kingfisher one frozen March, the short-eared owl in May, a dotterel calling overhead one August day, an October wryneck around the outside bath, a flyover hawfinch….
Come early winter and it’s the sweep of starlings heading off to roost, the firecrests in the holly, the quick flash of a merlin, the tawny owls marking their territories in the night air, or the squeal of the water rail around the ponds that punctuate our working days.