After moving house last year I had to give up my old Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) grid square in Cheshire but finally I have got a new one and yesterday I did a recce.
I’ve been doing the British Trust for Ornithology’s BBS since 2014 and have really enjoyed it. My old grid square was beneath and on the slopes of the Cheshire Standstone Ridge (hopefully soon to be an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) about 25 minutes from my former home. It had a mixture of landscapes with cottage gardens, horse and dairy pasture, a flower meadow and wooded hillside. The site gave me plenty of sightings and from looking at the previous records, I found more birds, and more species, than other surveyors who have held the grid square.
With taking a three-month sabbatical in 2019, I could only do half the survey that year and in 2020 I was locked-down in London and couldn’t do the survey at all. After moving home last year I had to give up with lovely site but early this year I secured a new site not far from my new home.
The new site is in and around the village of Clipston, about a 15-minute drive away, and I spent part of yesterday morning walking the route to get to know it and do the habitat recording part of the survey. The survey itself requires two, very roughly, parallel 1km transects to be walked, with notes taken of all the birds noted by sight or sound. The first transect starts in sheep pasture at the bottom of the low rolling hill looking over the village and then passes through the village itself, including through the churchyard, before finishing in what appear to be horse fields. The second transect starts in the village playing fields, before crossing a road and heading up into more sheep fields and finishes just down the opposite side of the hill from the village.
The pretty village and great views across the Northamptonshire landscape, it’s a nice spot for a bird survey and will hopefully present provide plenty of birds to record. There were certainly quite a few around yesterday but it was the bird I didn’t see that was most notable. Not far from the end of the route, at a cross-road in the public footpath, I found a little owl pellet lying on a fence rail. The glistening of the beetle shell casings was a give-away that it was from a little owl and it was smaller than tawny owl pellets I’ve seen before. I’ve been hearing little owls calling at night quite a lot recently in the valley below our house and it’s nice to know they are at my BBS site too.
For me, there are few nicer things to do in spring that get up early and head out to do a BBS – wandering through the countryside listening to birdsong is a pretty relaxing thing to do.
After a walk in the last of the sun this evening, as we returned to our car, we saw three roe deer grazing in the open arable fields. We stood and watched them for a few minutes as they grazed on the new shoots, well aware of our presence and looking up in our direction every so often. A blackbird and a small flock of yellowhammers provided the backing music to the view as the sun brought a orange hue to the greening fields and hedgerows.
It was exactly for moments like this that we moved to the countryside, fleeting moments that being a connection to nature. In the 40 years I lived in Cheshire, I didn’t once see roe deer in the surrounding countryside. We’ve now seen them twice in these fields below Hanging Houghton and plenty of muntjacs a number of times in various places across the area.
We eventually drove away after the three deer moved into the hedge line, only to find there were actually four together in the fields, a buck and three does.
Not the best image from my phone; three deer just visible at the bend of a hedge.
My first post of the year made an aim to get back into conservation volunteering after leaving so much of it behind when I moved home last year. I’ve already made a good start with a breeding bird survey grid square secured for this spring and a week on RSPB Ramsey Island in September.
I may have said before that whilst my wildlife interests are wide and I spend a fair bit of time focused on birds, I’m particularly interested in mammals. I’ve tended to find that volunteering opportunities for mammals are much more difficult to come by. However, after following the local badger group on social media for a while, I decided to join and see how I could get involved. The first step has been to get training to do sett surveys and to look for setts when out on our walks around Northamptonshire as well as closer to home.
A few weeks ago on a chilly Saturday morning I attended a training session provided by Northamptonshire Badger Group. Run outside at a live sett, the morning of training gave me a very good introduction to many aspects of badger’s lives. The purpose of the training was to introduce me and the other attendees to badger ecology and how to undertake surveys of their setts. We learnt about the different types of sett, how to know whether they are in use including the the field signs to look out for, some of the legal background and how to spot a blocked sett. I have also bought a couple of books to widen my knowledge of badgers and booked myself on a day-long course on badger-related crime provided by the Badger Trust.
Since the training we have been out for a few walks around the Northamptonshire countryside and have surveyed seven setts so far and provided the details to the country badger recorder. In just one walk yesterday we found four setts on a six mile route. It’s unwise to provide details of the locations in the public domain as there are plenty of people out there who wish harm to both setts and the badgers living in them, so I will be careful with any information I post on here..
However, below is a photo of the fourth sett we found yesterday. It included a huge hole in the middle of a crop field with other holes on the edge of the planted area and some more in the adjoining copse, all within a short distance of the public footpath we were walking on. The farmer had avoided the huge hole and planted around it. It is illegal for anyone to interfere with a sett, so ploughing over the hole would have been an illegal act, but I’m hoping the farmer did this out of care for wildlife. The hole was so big that it could also have damaged the tractor if they had tried to go straight over it.
I’m hoping this is the start to being able to do more to help the wildlife of Northamptonshire after being very pleasantly surprised at how rich nature in the county is compared to my former home are in Cheshire.