February’s flush count was brought forward in the light of this week’s FFOG meeting which – among other things – will be discussing our progress in attracting birds to the reserve.
Very wet underfoot again, but an otherwise lovely morning for wading through marshes. An encouraging start in the Hay Meadow, where 17 common snipe were flushed, was followed by a ‘high’ figure for Upper Sowerholme of 7. School Pond yielded 24 snipe (including 1 jack) and Big Meadow 40 (including 2 Jack) making a total of 88, much on a par with this time last year.
Teal were again on School Pond (though only 4 birds) in the company of a moorhen, A heron was spotted in Big Meadow, as were 5 female pheasants and a wren. A brown hare was disturbed in the depths of the marsh. Last seen it was running off in the direction of the FA shed.
In previous years, the first flush count of the winter has netted fewer than 10 snipe. This morning we recorded 23! There was one in the Hay Meadow and four in School Pond,. The remaining 18 were noted in Big Meadow. Interestingly, all bar one of these flew up from the northern part of the marsh, where the rushes are young and green following the recent management. (This is where Ian N. took the snipe photograph he posted a few days ago.) Not many other notable birds around, although a meadow pipit took off from the northern end of Big Meadow marsh. On a lovely sunny and deceptively warm day, the Hay Meadow marsh was busy with insects. A Comma butterfly was spotted in Upper Sowerholme and a Red Admiral by School Pond.
The final flush count of the winter yielded just 16 snipe: one in the Hay Meadow, one in Upper Sowerholme, six in School Pond, five in Big Meadow and – for the first time – three in Lower Sowerholme (Willow Tree Pond). But whilst the snipe are moving on now, there were plenty of other birds about. A chiffchaff was singing in the trees around Upper Sowerholme. BIg Meadow yielded a mistle thrush, meadow pipit, male reed bunting, blackbird, moorhen and two mallards. There were another two mallards swimming on the pool in Upper Sowerholme. Flying over the reserve were a heron, buzzard and sand martin. There was just one female teal in School Pond, but her behaviour suggested that she could have a nest.
Ascot and Bee will be leaving tomorrow (Good Friday) after a first attempt at grazing rushes. They have clearly been eating clumps of rush round the edges of Big Meadow even if the overall rush coverage hasn’t changed a great deal. They have also been much admired for their decorative qualities and their occasional displays of teenage athleticism… and they have provided a useful source of manure for some of Fairfield’s gardeners. The FA will be discussing the experiment next month and will hope to decide whether pony grazing would be useful again next winter, perhaps at a slightly different time or even with larger numbers. In the meantime many thanks to their owner, Nicola Evans and to all the volunteers who kept an eye on them every day. They have been in good health throughout, and the picture shows Bee discussing with her vet last Friday the pros and cons of her annual flu and tetanus injection. The vet persuaded her to go for it.
The wonderfully sunny and almost warm conditions suited the flush counting team this morning. And the snipe too must be finding conditions more to their liking. In contrast to the disappointing figures recently, today’s count set a new record. Snipe were coming up so thick and fast and in all directions that it was almost impossible to keep track. And there may be some double counting as birds disturbed in School Pond settled into Big Meadow only to be disturbed again. But the tally of 160 snipe (7 of them jack), comfortably tops the previous high of 119 from 2nd February last year. The breakdown was Hay Meadow 6; Upper Sowerholme 1: School Pond 82 common and 3 jack; Big Meadow 64 common and 4 jack.
In addition we noted: 13 teal, 2 mistle thrush and 2 mallard in School Pond; 2 water rail along Lucy Brook in the Hay Meadow; 3 mallard on Friars Pond in Big Meadow and a meadow pipit; a great tit calling loudly from the south end of the Orchard. To round things off nicely, there was a glimpse of a brown hare keeping a low profile in the Big Meadow marsh.