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New bird species for the farm

I'm a list keeper. I like lists of jobs, books, ideas and particularly wildlife. Since 2017 I have kept a list of all the bird species seen on or over the farm, during each month and tabulated these at the end of each month with a few sparse notes. To be properly scientific you would walk a set route each month and count numbers and species, but I am not really good or quick enough at IDing to do that. So what I have is a small window on diversity of species month by month.

A big landmark came in 2020 when a pair of Shelduck visited and pushed the list to the magic 100 species. But here we are in Mid January and already 2022 has given me 2 new ones but from very different ends of the spectrum.

Species #105 is one that I was extremely happy to get and hard won - the Little Owl. When I grew up at Park Farm a few miles away, this interesting owl was something we saw regularly. They loved to sit on fence posts by the hedge. If was zooming along on the motorbike and I surprised one they tended to sit really still pretending not to be there - a bird with lots of character and loved by the family.

When I moved to Waterhay in 2012 I put it on the original list of 100 birds I expected to see. However after a couple of years of not seeing any I wondered why. I then found that over the years I had been away from Wiltshire Little Owl populations had dropped significantly in the lowlands, and knowone really knew why. Was it predation by Buzzards, lack of nesting holes, weather (drought and hard winters) or something else.

I had kind of given up looking. But in late December 2021 a grey bird flew out of an old willow tree with a swooping flight and disappeared, I scratched my head but couldn't work out what it had been. Two weeks later the same thing happened at the same tree, and again it disappeared into nowhere. Then last week I happened to come at the tree from a different direction and it happened again, but I just managed to spot where the bird landed in another willow on the opposite river bank. I got the binoculars on the spot but nothing appeared to be there but a stub of a broken branch. I watched the stub for nearly half a minute and then it moved, the owl spun its head round, looked at me and had a stretch. Instantly I knew what it was. So I'm hoping its going to be resident, and keen to get a special box built and installed in a tree. They tend not to move very far, unlike the second new bird...

Pink Footed Geese at Waterhay Farm - Picture Mark Gurney @MarkGurn

Our most common goose is the Canada Goose, with the Greylag in second place. Both of these species are not really here in this area by purely natural means, the Canadas are descendants of an introduction many years ago and the Greylags were also introduced but more recently (by wildfowlers). So the term used is "naturalised". Both love a short grass field with enough space to see predators and ideally adjacent to a lake, which we can more than provide.

So when I was texted by local birder John that there were some Pink Footed Geese with the Greylags in our Broad Common I was really interested. I also had to reach for the bird book as I am not an expert on grey geese, of which there are quite a few flavours and some recent reclassifications and name changes just to keep folk on their toes. After a quick session reading up on the difference in size and beak colour I was on the bike to take a look. Anyway I got to see them and as I write this they have been here for a couple of days. They are noticably smaller and darker than Greylags. They have a shorter black beak with a pinky stripe, so quite easy to tell apart. They are a migratory species and only here for the winter. They breed in Greenland and Iceland so are clocking up a fair few miles each year. Wiltshire is not a normal place for them to hang out, the North Sea coast is where most over winter with up to 360,000 coming to the UK. So there we are species #106, and one I wasn't expecting.


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