Birds on the farm

PUBLISHED: 16:12 25 January 2011 | UPDATED: 20:33 20 February 2013

Birds on the farm

Birds on the farm

Jill Byron's small farm in the Shropshire Hills is a place which would make any twitcher's heart flutter

My birds eye view

Jill Byrons small farm in the Shropshire Hills is a place which would make any twitchers heart flutter

We have an enormously varied amount of bird species in Britain. In the Shropshire Hills alone, I have counted 46 different types of bird on and around our farm, most of which visit our garden.

In summer, we have visiting curlews, which are becoming more numerous again after a worrying decline in numbers for many years. Swallows nest in our barns and under the eaves of our old farmhouse, largely because we have two of the very few unconverted barns in the area. All the birds that used to nest in neighbouring farm barns are now unable to do so, as they have all been converted into houses, so they all come here instead.
We actually have planning permission on our barn but even if we had the money to convert it, I would feel so guilty about doing so, because we
would be depriving the swallows, which fly thousands of miles back to the place in which they were born, of anywhere to nest when they arrived home. Perhaps more people should think about this when they buy a converted barn.

Other summer visitors include yellowhammers, pied wagtails, swifts, which scream as they fly overhead, cuckoos and the spotted flycatcher. This bird makes a sound exactly like a squeaky wheelbarrow and is quite unmistakeable.

For two years running, a cuckoo has laid her egg in one of our sparrows nests. Unfortunately, a baby cuckoo is a good deal larger than a whole brood of sparrows and both times, the baby has ended up on the lawn beside the house. Because we have a boxer who would eat them given half a chance, we have had to move them over the fence into the vegetable garden, where we can only hope they survive. They are amazingly large birds and one has to wonder why the female cuckoo doesnt lay in the nest of a larger bird, where there would be more room for her growing baby.

I love to see the yellowhammers when they arrive here in the spring. I will glance out of my kitchen window and see the little bright yellow bird sitting on the post. He only appears once and it is almost as though he is just telling me that he has arrived back safely. I dont see him again but I always know when he has arrived back home for the summer.

Perhaps my favourite sound of all in the spring is the haunting, bubbling cry of the curlew. They nest in local fields and are wonderful birds to see and hear.

Last year we saw a lapwing, or peewit, in one of our fields but he was only passing through and we havent seen him again.

We have a barn owl living in our hay barn, which keeps the mice and voles at bay and is a wonderful sight as he glides silently into the night, like a ghostly white spirit.

There are many tawny owls in the trees around us and their eerie call sends shivers down my spine as I stand outside last thing at night. Their call, along with the vixens scream in winter, and the tune of the river below as it rushes over the stones, are the only sounds we can hear. Peace reigns supreme over this beautiful part of Shropshire.

I had no idea just how many different species of birds we had until I started putting out food for them. We have a pair of greenfinches and a pair of goldfinches nesting here again now, after an absence of several years. There are at least two nuthatches which visit us and great tits, blue tits, coal tits, the pretty long-tailed tits, marsh and willow tits all come to
our garden.

We also see many sparrows now. When we first came here 17 years ago, there were none at all but several years later, after costing us a fortune in seed and nuts, we now have a very healthy population and tree sparrows have joined them in the last year or two.

Robins, sometimes as many as four at a time, wrens, chaffinches, dunnocks, or hedge sparrows, and the gorgeously coloured bullfinch are all regular visitors and I watched entranced this winter as this lovely bird came to feast off our nettle seeds in the hedge outside our back door, giving me a wonderful view of him and enabling me to take some photos.
I even saw a fire crest, (or was it a gold crest?) on one of the apple trees one day when I was out in the shed looking for something. I glanced up and there he was, a tiny bird with a golden mark on his head, on one of our apple trees. I had never seen one before and rushed in to consult the bird book. The two are very similar and I didnt get a long enough look at it to ascertain which of the two it was.

Two pairs of greater spotted woodpeckers are also regular visitors to our peanuts. The male has a red patch on the back of his neck whilst the female has no red markings. All baby greater spotted woodpeckers have a red cap, no matter what sex they are.

Green woodpeckers live in our wood and we often hear their cackling laugh and see them on the wires as we sit in the garden on a warm summers day.

Blackbirds abound and their lovely liquid song fills the air in the spring, along with the soothing call of the wood pigeons and collared doves.

The smart-looking magpies nest in our hedges and although we may not like their eating habits, they also have to live and nature made them the way they are for a purpose. The way they strut about, looking for all the world like a pair of city slickers, always amuses me. When we had Highland cattle, they used to perch on them and pull out loose hair for nesting material. The cows never seemed to mind and probably enjoyed the attentions of the birds.

We see two species of thrush, the song and the mistle thrush, the odd starling, tree creepers and jays. Even herons are quite regular visitors. Pheasants and partridge will come into the garden and enjoy the seeds that the little birds have dropped on the ground.

In 2009, I saw a redstart for the first time. A pair nested in one of our old barns and we watched the male, who has a white blaze on his face, flying backwards and forwards with his beak full of caterpillars, feeding the female, who incubates the eggs alone. They are beautiful birds with a deep rich chestnut breast and the red tail or start, which gives them their name. We had never seen one before and had to look in our bird book in order to identify them.

We probably see some of the greatest varieties of birds of prey anywhere in the British Isles. This part of Shropshire is home to sparrowhawks, kestrels, buzzards, the magnificent red kites, crows, barn owls, little owls and tawny owls.

A hen harrier has been seen over the Stiperstones and Im sure there were two drifting down the valley in June, as I watched from the Norbury road opposite our farm. They werent buzzards or red kites, so I have to think that that was what they were.

While working in the garden a few years ago, I glanced up at our wood and couldnt believe my eyes. Buzzards were coming in from all directions until I counted 25 of them. I have never seen such a sight since and would love to know if this was a regular occurrence or a one-off.

Bird watching is a time-consuming but incredibly enjoyable occupation and is one I make the most of in the winter, when they all come to feed on the peanuts and seed we put out for them.

We leave our hedges long and thick so the birds can nest in them and I think that is why there are so many on the farm.

We are so lucky to have the number and variety of birds that we do and for any twitcher, this part of Shropshire is a wonderful place to see them all.

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