Wednesday, 14 January 2015

A Look Back on 2014 at Barton Farm

Happy New Year everyone! This time last year I wrote a yearly wrap up of 2013 including first and last records of certain species, and I was planning on doing something similar this year only something came up. This post is a little late anyway because the past few evenings have been devoted to my first ever bone cleaning! The bones are now all clean and are drying out, ready for a full post at some point in 2015. I can't wait until they are dry so I can start to try and figure out which bone is from which part of the body, take some photos and generally use my find to learn more about this particular animal, species which will be kept under my hat for now. But it's an interesting start to the year for me wildlife-wise.

I'm writing today a little sad because building work has finally started at my local patch, Barton Farm. It's been scheduled for development for many years now, and the earliest guess I heard for work starting was June 2014. That didn't happen, but on Sunday I arrived to see an area of the big field had been stripped of soil, right down to the chalk underneath, and diggers were waiting at the edge of the site. The small horse paddock that's behind a house at the bottom of the farm and is often covered in Rooks was also gone. (The Rooks were still around enjoying the freshly exposed earth though!) So it looks like 2014 will be my last complete year at this patch. I know there will still be something to see for a while as building work doesn't happen overnight, but will I still want to visit after they start cutting down the trees and removing the hedgerows? I don't know.

So instead of last year when I wrote about things I saw in 2013 and the sightings were from all over, this 2014 post will mostly be about Barton Farm and the records I made there. I didn't have a lot of time to watch wildlife this year so when I did get away, that's where I went. And the beauty of patch watching is that a bird can be common as anything but when you see it on your patch it's super exciting because you've never seen it there before. You can watch the changing of bird numbers as the seasons progress and notice patterns. You'll start to make educated guesses about the location of nests, even when you never see the actual nest, just from the behaviour of birds.You start to notice signs of hidden mammals and birds. That's how much this patch means to me, that I will lose this place I know so well. I know it will be missed by many, as it is popular with dog walkers, picnickers, cyclists and joggers. I won't lie and pretend I didn't sometimes wish there were less people about, being the shy person that I am! Barton Farm was farmed by someone who wanted to give wildlife a space on their farm, given that there were wide margins at the edges of the fields that were allowed to grow wild, and the fields spent time in stubble and became covered in feeding birds.

In Spring, these were the dates of my first and last sightings:

  • 16/2- My first butterfly of the season, and it wasn't a Red Admiral like it is most years but a Peacock
  • 6/3- Last Redwings and Fieldfares
  • 13/4- Four Swallows flew North- one day earlier than my 2013 record, (but still much later than some people's records of course!)
  • 19/4- The House Martins returned to the farm.
  •  27/4- The first Whitethroat reappeared, a singing male.
  • 11/5- The first Swift was seen.
  • 11/5- A female Blackbird was seen with food
  • 18/5- The first young bird, a juvenile Robin!

2014 was a great year for new additions to my patch list, with six new species! I bet I'm not the first birdwatcher who made predictions about what birds they thought they would see next on their patch. My predictions at the start of this year that totally failed to come true included: Mallard (which I thought I had a reasonable chance of seeing fly over during their early Spring 'wandering' period), Raven (I've seen them a few times the other side of Winchester and am still holding out for a flyover!), and Brambling (still haven't picked one out among the Chaffinches, but then Winter 2013-14 was not a Brambling year and it doesn't look like this winter is either, at least not so far). But I did end up adding some species that I never would have predicted! So let's take a look.

  • 15/1- My first new species of the year, and one that I actually did predict beforehand, Pheasant. It does seem odd that when it comes to game birds, my patch list got Grey Partridge first (ask me about that story and how excited I was when it happened sometime!), and then Red-legged Partridge (several records but it's still only occasionally I see them) before I finally recorded a Pheasant! But Pheasants don't seem to be common around this particular part of the local farmland, even though I had suspected they lived on the farmland on the other side of the road. When I found a few plucked Pheasant feathers, the remains of a kill, back in 2013 I guessed it wouldn't be long before I saw one. And I have a couple of records now, but the fact that I see them so rarely suggests there is no shoot near here.
  •  16-2- Another one that seems obvious, but I didn't really predict- a Sparrowhawk glided over on this lovely sunny day! It seemed strange that I hadn't predicted it, as we get Sparrowhawks in our garden which really isn't that far away. But I already knew that garden wildlife is in some ways a world away from what shows up on the farm, with birds like Greenfinches common in our garden and yet a rare sight at Barton Farm. So the Sparrowhawk joined a rather illustrious list of birds of prey that I've been lucky enough to see here, alongside Buzzard, Kestrel, Red Kite, Peregrine, Hobby, and signs of Tawny Owl and Barn Owl. Wonderful!
  • 6/7- One of my favourite moments of the Summer was when I walked to the mature trees in the middle of the farm and suddenly realised the trees were filled with Spotted Flycatchers! There were at least three youngsters, and two adults feeding them! I love Spotted Flycatchers because what they lack in plumage prettiness they more than make up for in personality. If you know the bird even a little bit you will recognise the way it sits confidently out in the open, very upright, and then suddenly flies into a little hover before perching openly once again. You can watch them for ages because they don't flit away and hide like some birds do, and when they fly they never seem to go far. And even when the adults seem to be wrongly named because they are quite pale and not spotty at all, if you see the young birds you'll see where the name came from! They are adorably spotty. Spotted Flycatcher was not a bird I ever could have predicted would once be on my patch list, because even though the trees on the farm are lovely they are not all that good for birds, or only the commonest species anyway. It was wonderful to see the flycatchers appreciating them, though I'm positive they didn't breed on the farm.
  • 3/8- Another amazing record. I was watching the bushes next to the railway cutting and was amazed to see three House Sparrows feeding in an elder bush! There were two males and a female. Once a common farmland species, it's rare the farm that has them now. I haven't seen any before or since, but was still chuffed to bits that I got to see them just that one time. Far from predicting them, I actually wrote them off as a bird I would never see at Barton Farm because it wasn't a farm that had sparrows already, so it probably never would again. And ok, they aren't resident there, but it did make me see that sparrows sometimes travel in search of food! 
  •  17/9- I spotted what I thought at first glance was a Wheatear in the mature trees, which would have been exciting enough...until I realised it was far too brown and streaky on the back, and too small, with a neat splash of orange on its chest. It was a Whinchat! I've recorded Wheatears every Autumn since I started watching this patch, but never a Whinchat, which aren't all that easy to find in Hampshire sometimes. I was honoured to see one passing through on its migration!
  •  14/10- In one of the field margins, I thought I saw the Whinchat again. The bird sat on top of a bush instead of diving into undergrowth, which is classic chat behaviour, and it was about the same size. But soon I realised this was a totally different bird, with barely any eyestripe and a dark patch behind the eye, and a noticeable white wing bar. All these signs pointed to the Whinchat's close cousin, a Stonechat, and possibly a young one judging by its dull colouring. Needless to say I was thrilled to bits that my patch hosted both the 'chat' chats (Robins and Wheatears are also chats but hey, it's not in their names so doesn't quite count!) in the space of just over a month.

And here are my first and lasts for Autumn:

  • 8/9- My traditional Autumn Wheatear record! I get one every year, but only one and not in Spring yet. Sadly my patch may not be around long enough to see if the streak would have been broken.
  • 2/10- My last visit of the Autumn where I saw butterflies, which were Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell and Small/Green-veined White (I didn't note which so must have not got a very good view)
  • Also on 2/10, I glimpsed what I thought were Redwings flying over, but sadly they went out of sight too quickly for me to properly identify them.
  • 14/10- about 100 winter thrushes flew over in a Westerly direction, though I couldn't identify if they were Redwings or Fieldfares or a mixture of both.
  •  2/11- The first winter thrushes actually in the site were a small number of Fieldfares.
  •  Also on 2/11, my second ever Firecrest at this site was spotted moving its way along the boundary hedge,

As for mammals, it wasn't such a bad year either. At the end of 2013 I saw a hare and hoped for more sightings in 2014. Well, on 21/2 I saw two hares together, sitting stock still on the field as hares do, nose to nose as if they were a pair. I hoped to see more but as the crop grew up it was impossible to tell if they were there or not.

Also, remember when I wrote that post about signs of foxes? I finally saw the fox! On the 25/6 I saw it creep out into one of the lines in the barley, apparently not noticing at me at all for a moment, until it did and in one quick leap disappeared into the crop again. It looked healthy, with thick fur and a big fluffy brush with interestingly no white on the end at all.

A Roebuck with lovely antlers were seen on 11/5, just outside the farm. Other than that there wasn't much Roe Deer activity this year.

In 2013, I realised Tawny Owls were in the area in quite a sad way when I saw a dead one on the railway lines. But on 6/3 2014 I found some more positive signs, in the form of what I originally thought was a cluster of droppings at the base of a large tree, until I saw they were made up of fur with bone fragments and what I was really seeing was owl pellets! I collected them and finally did what the tracks and signs books say you should do, which is soak them in water to get rid of the fur and break them down to look at the bones. I'll look at the contents in more detail in a future post! It was the first time I've ever found pellets, or found pellets and known it because they do look a lot like poo. ^^ I think the Tawny Owl was roosting in that tree for at least a few days.

The pellets before...

....and after!
I have a very short moth list that began this year when I saw a lovely Scarlet Tiger in midsummer and a Magpie Moth in late summer. Only day-flying species got the chance to be on my list as I only visit during the day. ^^

As my interest in fungi only grows stronger all the time, and I found a lot of fungi at the farm last winter which I wrote this post about, I started a fungi list this year which includes Yellow Brain, Crystal Brain, Common Jellyspot and some lovely, huge Dryad's Saddle brackets.

So it was quite an amazing year wildlife-wise at this little farm. I feel privileged to have gotten to know it so well, and I know I won't be the only one sad to see it go. I'll make sure I keep my notes so I won't forget my sightings and experiences.


On a more positive note, just a few quick things about the rest of the year: I got to go to Norfolk which was of course amazing, and you can read all about that here, here and here!

I finally completed the epic Black-headed Gull colony sketchbook post that I've been working on since 2012!

And perhaps most excitingly of all, I got to see birds being ringed, including a Kingfisher!

I added only three new species to my life list this year, but they more than make up in quality what they lack in quantity! The first two were on the same day and were Long-tailed Duck and Lesser Yellowlegs, both from the New Forest area, the latter being the Lesser Yellowlegs that stayed most of the winter at Lepe Country Park. The Long-tailed Ducks were especially lovely and my mum and I made a special trip to see them after we saw them reported on because we love ducks. And I finally saw my first Razorbill, on a lovely trip to Portland Bill in April. Yes, Razorbill for me was one of those odd species that's common but you just haven't seen it for some reason. But now I have! Next year: Tawny Owl!

I hope you all had a wonderful 2014 and that this year is shaping up really nicely. :) Thanks for reading my blog and sharing my passion. Stick with me and we'll explore nature together!