Wow! What a lot of birds...
With work commitments taking me away to lead a birding tour in China for a large part of November, I have not spent a great deal of time on the farm in the past couple of months. However with so much recent rainfall I have been keen to take a close look and see what the water levels were like and what birds were being attracted. So, with lovely calm and bright weather conditions for once Helen and I took a look around the wetland this morning and found that many of the fields are looking in excellent condition to attract waders and wildfowl. It was also very obvious that the birds agree with this assessment as my reaction as we began to drive along the main track was... Wow, what a lot of birds!
Bridge Field hosted more birds than I have seen on any previous visit, with at least 270 Lapwings enjoying the wet conditions in that field. Plenty of Common and Herring Gulls were also present and foraging for food in the damp grassland. A little further along the track a sizeable flock of Greylag and Canada Geese were disturbed and a flock of ca 60 Wigeon also took to the skies. We then encountered an even more impressive concentration of Lapwing which lifted up into the air as we pulled up by the Cut Bridge. The masses of birds circled repeatedly overhead, calling frequently and were close enough for us to hear the air rushing over the birds wings as they tumbled about in the sky. With so many birds in the air at one time it is always difficult make accurate counts, but during the visit I estimated that a minimum of 950 Lapwing were present on the farm. Although large flocks of Lapwings are often to be found in the Vale of Pickering it is worth putting this count into some context, the previous highest count of Lapwings on the farm since my visits began in 2009 is 343. Impressive stuff! A little variety was added by 18 Golden Plover and 12 Dunlin, whilst good numbers of Black-headed Gulls and at least 50 Starlings were also amongst the melee. Walking towards the western boundary we found a flock of ca 40 Mallard and then on the Old Irrigation Pond we found an impressive 220+ Teal accompanied by five Gadwall.
Although the water levels in one of the fields are a bit too high and a bit too extensive at the moment, most of the fields are looking in excellent condition and there should be plenty of time to tweak the water levels ready for the breeding season. In the meantime I am sure the birds will continue to enjoy wet conditions and the largely undisturbed nature of the fields.
Although most of the birds mentioned here are not especially rare, when one considers that just three years ago a visit at this time of year would have produced relatively few birds, with perhaps a few ducks in some of the ditches, the transformation that has taken place is remarkable.