Winter farmland bird counts and ringing scheme returns from Wick Grange Farm and Glenmore Farm in 2009/10
Steve Davies & Peter Holmes
As a continuation of a study of farmland birds at two farms near Wick, Pershore, the methodologies employed during the winters of 2007/8 and 2008/9 (Davies & Holmes 2009) were repeated in the winter period 2009/10. A total of eight farmland walks were made by SD between 7th October 2009 and 25th January 2010. The duration of visits ranged from 30 minutes to 180 minutes giving a total observer effort of 17 hours and 35 minutes. The winter ringing scheme, conducted by PH with occasional assistance from SD, commenced in October 2009 and ended when flocking birds dispersed in February 2010. Part of the Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) agreements for both farms included the provision of wildbird crops to specifically target winter finch and bunting flocks. White millet and sunflower were among these crops, offering a range of seed sizes that would benefit a suite of different species.
The list. Maximum counts of birds derived from winter farmland walks 2009/10 are the first values given after the species name. Maximum counts of individuals from the ringing data are shown in parentheses. The first value represents the number of new, previously unringed individuals. ‘Retraps’ indicates the number of birds previously ringed and subsequently recaptured. ‘Total’ gives the total number of each species captured including retraps.
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis-1
Cormorant Phalacracorax carbo-1
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea-1
Mute Swan Cygnus olor-1
Greylag Goose Anser anser-224
Canada Goose Branta Canadensis-80
Teal Anas crecca-6
Mallard Anas platyrynchos-26
Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula-1
Buzzard Buteo buteo-3
Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus-2 (1)
Kestrel Falco tinnunculus-1
Peregrine Falco peregrines-1
Red-legged Partridge Alectoris rufa-33
Grey Partridge Perdix perdix-5
Pheasant Phasianus colchicus-3
Moorhen Gallinula chloropus-8
Lapwing Vanellus vanellus-1
Snipe Gallinago gallinago-6
Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus-50
Woodpigeon Columba palambus-1038
Stock Dove Columba oenas-10
Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto-33
Little Owl Athene noctua-1
Green Woodpecker Picu viridis-5 (1)
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major-3
Skylark Alauda arvensis-140 (1)
Swallow Hirundo rustica-2
Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis-69 (8)
Pied Wagtail Motacilla alba-26
Dunnock Prunella modularis-17 (86; retraps 21; total 107)
Wren Troglodytes troglodytes-12 (1)
Robin Erithacus rubecula-6 (11; retraps 1; total 12)
Fieldfare Turdus pilaris-27
Blackbird Turdus merula-30 (18; retraps 1)
Song Thrush Turdus philomelos-9 (5)
Redwing Turdus iliacus-15 (2)
Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus-1 (1)
Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita-1 (1)
Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus-2 (1)
Coal Tit Periparus ater-1
Blue Tit Cyanistes caeruleus-11 (9; retraps 2; total 11)
Great Tit Parus major-10 (18; retraps 4; total 22)
Treecreeper Certhia familiaris-0 (1)
Jay Garrulus glandarius-1
Magpie Pica pica-6
Jackdaw Corvus monedula-5
Rook Corvus frugilegus-2
Carrion Crow Corvus corone corone-15
Starling Sturnus vulgaris-89
House Sparrow Passer domesticus-36 (10)
Tree Sparrow Passr montanus-31 (17; retraps 3; total 20)
Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs- 172 (96)
Greenfinch Carduelis chloris-107 (38)
Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis-10 (1)
Linnet Carduelis cannabina-310 (52)
Lesser Redpoll Carduelis flammea cabaret-0 (1)
Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula-1
Yellowhammer Emberiza citronella-72 (108; retraps 19; total 127)
Reed Bunting Emberiza schoeniclus-190 (67; retraps 11; total 78)
Corn Bunting Emberiza calandra-2 (1)
Total species seen-58
Total species ringed-26
Total ‘new’ birds ringed-556
Total birds captured in winter period 2009/10-622
Counts made of birds on farmland walks accounted for all species recorded other than Willow Warbler, Treecreeper and Lesser Redpoll which were only counted as captures during ringing sessions. Counts of the single grebe, geese, swans, ducks and raptors using the habitat should be considered accurate due to the easy ‘countability’ of these species with a look-see method (Bibby et. Al. 2000).
The numbers of gamebirds were high because of captive birds being released by a shooting syndicate operating on Glenmore Farm. The Grey Partridges may be of natural stock, I am not aware of any being released by the home shoot.
Waders were rather disappointing during counts with only one Lapwing recorded. However, flocks of 200+ were seen flying over the study site. I have no doubt that Lapwings and Golden Plover use the habitat over the winter in larger numbers, just not on my survey days! Surely a case for greater observer effort. Snipe made a good showing when the weather became more severe. They would generally be found along the banks of the River Avon and on open areas of fields with bare earth.
The provision of so much seed food during the winter had a perhaps not unexpected effect on the numbers of Woodpigeon encountered. The number counted by SD was less than half that reported by shooters at Glenmore Farm who gave maximum numbers of 2500+! High numbers of Collared Dove were generally found away from the arable areas and near to farm buildings at both farms.
As last year, passerine counts were impressive. I (SD) am again amazed at the counts of Dunnock with a maxima of 17 recorded on walks but an incredible 86 newly ringed birds and 21 retraps from this winter period. This, of course, raises the question: just how under recorded in winter on farmland is this skulking hedge dweller? It is statistics such as these that emphasise the power of bird ringing as a tool for monitoring the numbers of individuals that use a specific habitat over a period of time.
PH was particularly pleased with the final tally for Yellowhammers along with agreeable returns for Reed Bunting, Linnet and Greenfinch. A single Corn Bunting made a useful addition to the ringing list, but numbers of this come-and-go species for the county(Harry Green, pers. com), found on walks were nowhere near the maximum of 12 recorded in 2007/8 (Davies & Holmes 2009).
A couple of Africa bound summer visitors lingered with rwo Swallows noted on a walk on 7th October and a single Willow Warbler trapped and ringed.
Inevitably, one must save the best till last! Rob Prudden (pers. com), a regular birding visitor to Wick, told me about a flock of 30+ Tree Sparrows congregating in the hedgerows near the strips of white millet. The location was duly relayed to PH who consequently captured and ringed a good sample of these red-listed birds. It was a couple of visits later that I was fortunate enough to encounter a nice tight flock of at least 31 birds.
The farmland walks counting birds can give a fair estimate of the number of individuals using the study site at a particular moment in time. However, for many of the smaller passerine species, this can only ever be a snapshot. A consistent ringing effort is the only reliable way of extracting data for total numbers of individuals using the habitat for them, many of which are to be found on the amber and red lists of species of conservation concern.
Where do the Corn Buntings that breed at Wick go during the winter (perhaps to Bedfordshire where 700 were found during the winter of 2009/10?). There were no reports of Tree Sparrows breeding in Worcestershire in 2009 (Rob Prudden, Brian Stretch, pers. com) and as far as I know not in 2010. The population in the north of the county at Wassell Grove appears to be now extinct. So where do the Tree Sparrows found here this winter breed?
There are so many questions to be answered!
Many thanks to Tom Meikle and Rob Kings for granting permission to carry out these studies on their land and for their continued commitment to improving the lot for many of our declining typical farmland bird species. This report will be forwarded to Natural England for record.
BIBBY,C.J., BURGESS, N.D., HILL,D.A., & MUSTOE,S.H. 2000. Bird census techniques.2nd ed. Academic Press.
DAVIES,S., & HOLMES,P. 2009.Winter farmland bird counts at Wick Grange Farm and Glenmore Farm in 2007/8-a tale of two methods. Worcestershire Record 26:43-44.
DAVIES,S.,HOLMES,P.2009.Winter farmland bird counts at Wick Grange farm and Glenmore Farm in 2008/9.Worcestershire Record 26:44-45