Monday, 20 September 2010

Down on the farm

Gulls following the plough at Bulphan Fen.
I’ve seen more farmland over the last few days than I care to remember. Having covered some 220 miles by road, farm track and footpath in search of Grey Partridge in the London Area, I can tell you that it doesn’t get any more interesting the more you look at it. I’ve birded from London Colney east to South Ockendon, checking every suitable stubble field, paddock and patch of waste ground for Perdix perdix, but with no luck.

There’s been no shortage of the two commoner gamebirds, however, as some of my counts from the search area testify. For Red-legged Partridge, these include 14 from Navestock, 147 in the Bulphan-South Ockendon area and 46 on a farm near North Mymms. Common Pheasant numbers in the same areas were 73, 103 and 43 respectively. Many of these would have been birds recently bred and released for shooting, and a number of farms had cultivated stands of maize as game cover crops. In several of these grain feeders could be seen, and on one farm I even found open pens from where Red-legs were commuting to the open countryside. But still no Greys.

No shortage of Red-leggeds - but where are the Greys?

So much searching, even in intensively farmed areas, did bring a few rewards, however. A couple of Hobbies were still performing west of Navestock, as were five Common Buzzards, an adult Yellow-legged Gull was in a ploughed field with Lesser Black-backs in the same area, and passerines included the occasional Yellow Wagtail, Bullfinch and a rather streaky, buffish-brown finch in with a large Linnet flock which unfortunately flew off before I could pin it down (I will check the area again next week).

In the meantime, to rest my eyes from furrowed fields, I visited the Thames as the tide turned on Sunday, checking out the river and foreshore at Grays. Within a few minutes of arriving a juvenile Arctic Tern moved upriver behind three juv Common Terns, and among seven gull species four Yellow-legged and a first-winter Mediterranean were the most notable; also making the notebook were a Curlew and a Little Egret. But despite the attractions of the river, I still have Grey Partridge to find this autumn - I would never have guessed that it would turn out to be one of the biggest challenges of the year.

From left: Common, Black-headed and Yellow-legged Gulls at Grays.

2 comments:

  1. I still need Grey Partridge for my own (non-London) yearlist. Any idea where I could pick that up easily by public transport? Thanks - Tom

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  2. You won't be able to pick it up easily anywhere now, Tom. As I have found this year, none of the previously reliable London locations has produced birds so far, and the species is presumably on its way out in the London Area. Some former sites (such as Tyttenhanger GP) seemed to have relied on releases for shooting, but Red-legs are apparently proving more popular these days so the wild population is not being 'topped up' like it used to be either. I will be looking at more former sites this autumn, so keep checking back for updates.

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