The Big Farmland Bird Count is a relatively new initiative, similar to the Big Garden Bird Watch (28th – 30th January), but based on farms. The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) organise it in order to track trends in farmland birds and to establish the impacts of different types of farmland management. It has been going for just four years, with the number of farms participating rising year on year.
Farmers and landowners are asked to take part on any day between the 3rd and 12th February for thirty minutes. During this time the species and number of each species seen on one particular area of the farm are recorded. Details of the habitat types and the farm management in the area are required so the results can be put into context. The MAVES area is mostly farmland; you may not be the farmer but this is a great time for you to go and birdwatch on our public footpaths. Send us your results and we will feed them back to the farmers and to the GWCT.
In 2016 over 970 farmers took part and recorded 130 species across 900,000 acres. Blackbirds chirped in at number 1 with Woodpigeons flapping in at number 2 and the cheery little Robin hopping along at number 3. A total of 25 species on the Red List were also recorded. (The Red List is not a good list, for it is reserved for birds that are globally threatened or that have suffered a 50 % reduction in breeding range or breeding population in the last 25 years.) Moreover, 5 Red List species were in the top 25 of all the birds recorded – Fieldfares, House Sparrows, Starlings, Yellowhammers and Song Thrushes.
Fieldfares are frequently seen in the wintry fields of the Mid Arun Valley, sometimes forming loose flocks of a hundred birds or more with other species including Starlings, all busily preoccupied probing about for tasty invertebrates. Yellowhammers and House Sparrows are more partial to seeds, and so they can be seen in stubble fields or feeding on wild bird seed mixtures. Song Thrushes love to probe about for worms, though when the ground is frozen they search crevices for snails instead and cleverly use an anvil, such as a rock, to smash the shell. Unfortunately, the Number 1 rated Blackbird waits in the wings, and will often attempt to steal this juicy meal once removed from its packaging!
‘But I’m not sure how to tell the difference between a Mistle Thrush and a Song Thrush or a Yellowhammer and a Cirl Bunting’ I hear you cry! Don’t panic Mr Mainwaring, for the GWCT has a handy identification guide to download and use. There’s just no excuse, so wrap up warm, grab the binoculars, and get counting!