The North Fields

If you’ve been reading my recent posts you’ll know they’ve mainly been from the part of my village (Histon, Cambridgeshire) called Rowleys Meadow. I have two routes out of the village, the Meadow and what I call the North Fields, and the terrain is very different. The Meadow isn’t farmed and has many hedges, thickets and trees and is therefore better for birds in the Winter because it has a much higher density of numbers and species. But now it’s officially Spring, after the Equinox on March 20th/21st, I decided to visit the North Fields which are all under the plough. I’ve been over there on a few evenings at dusk and after dark in the last few weeks and heard golden plover (Pluvialis apricaria, Dansk: hjejle) and skylark on the ground but I haven’t been over there in daytime for a while.

The main reason I headed over there was because I wanted to find out if the large numbers of linnet and corn bunting which disappear from the fields every year at harvest time had returned. My first impression on entering the fields was that I should have gone to the Meadow, there was virtually no movement of any kind, but I stuck to my guns and that turned out to be a good decision. I didn’t expect to see corn bunting, which are becoming increasingly scarce on our farms, yet, but I had only gone half a mile or so before I heard the unmistakeable sound of a male calling. I heard him long before I saw him but I knew where he would be perched from where his song was coming from, it is a favourite perch all the time they are in residence:

Corn bunting (Emberiza calandra, Dansk: bomlærke) sitting in a favourite place and singing loud

It’s not the best picture of a corn bunting because the sun was still low in the sky directly behind with a thin layer of high white cloud inbetween. Consequently it was impossible to get anything other than a silhouettte without overexposing the shot, so that’s what I did so his colors can be seen. He wasn’t the only one I saw, there were three altogether, so I hope there’ll be a good few more in the next few weeks.

Another bunting which put in an appearance was a male reed bunting. There were several of these too, and just along the ditch from here was a flock of between 10-20 yellowhammers alternating between a hedgerow and the ground where they were feeding.

Reed bunting male (Emberiza schoeniclus, Dansk: rørspurv)

I didn’t go close enough to photograph the yellowhammers because I didn’t want to disturb them. Well, partly that, but also because I’d been distracted by a pair of hares (Lepus europaeus) chasing each other around in the long grass:

I couldn’t get close enough to get a picture of the whole hare, they were too wary of me and the dog, who’s a lurcher, so their timidity was well justified! But I like the way their ears poked up above the grass with the characteristic black tips.

Skylark waiting on the ground between high speed aerial duels with other larks

The other bird which was present in large numbers was the skylark (Alauda arvensis, Dansk: sanglærke). I stopped counting when I got to 30, and I wasn’t yet half way around my walk. They were on the ground, up high singing the amazing song that is is so much part of a British summer, and chasing each other around just above the ground at high speed in groups of up to around half a dozen.

I saw a TV show some years ago in which skylark song had been hugely slowed down and deconstructed, and they claimed the music of some classical composers (including I think, Beethoven) was based on the same structure. I was left sceptical, not least because Ludwig V was deaf and may therefore have struggled to analyse skylark song. But even so, it was fascinating!

Low level dogfight

High level chase

And singing his heart out

One of my other fascinations is etymology. I think that may originate from speaking two languages, and the first one I spoke, Danish, is one of the precursors of the current one, English, so a large number of English words have their derivation in Danish thanks to our Viking invaders all those centuries ago. The expression ‘larking about’ (and ‘lark’ may well be from the Danish ‘lærke’) originates from falconry. In days of yore, the men would go hunting with their peregrine falcons and the ladies would only be allowed to use the much smaller merlin which couldn’t catch birds bigger than larks. Hence ‘larking about’ became a term of derision based on the size of your falcon.

But I digress. The corn bunting are back, the sky was full of larks and the hares were getting frisky. I’ll keep you posted when the linnet and other summer visitors arrive.

11 responses to “The North Fields

  1. Hi Finn, I’m trying to work out exactly where, North of Histon you mean, is this east or west of the Cottenham Road? I seem to remember you had a handy map of your travels, is that still on line?


    • Hello Ross, it’s the fields to the right of the B1049 opposite the end of the old Cottenham Road. They stretch from the northern edge of Histon up to the southeastern end of Cottenham.

      The map’s still there, if you go to the ‘Concept’ page there’s a link towards the bottom of the page to a post with the details in.

  2. It´s nice that you also mention the names in Danish, I appreciate that. 🙂

  3. Another lovely set, Finn. I particularly like your low-level dogfight shot. Spring is such a wonderful time of re-awakening!

    • Thanks Gary, I’m glad you like them. I keep trying to get half-decent pictures of skylark but they’re usually too high or moving far too quickly, but this time I almost managed it! You’re dead right about Spring though, it’s an exciting time of year.

  4. I don’t know how you tell all these little brown jobs apart! I do love birds and I can identify the more common ones but I’m woefully ignorant about buntings. I’m looking forward to being educated by the Naturephile! I was completely amazed by the number of skylarks you saw. In the first instance, I think I’ve only ever seen them high up in the sky singing, and even then never more than 2 or 3 at once. I saw a hare yesterday, they’re not too uncommon round these parts, and nice and easy for an amateur like myself to identify.

    • There aren’t that many buntings and some of them are quite different to look at e.g. reed bunting, yellowhammer and corn bunting, often the easiest way to identify them is by their song which are easy to tell apart. I was in the same place again last weekend and I counted 22 skylark on the ground at one time. And lots of them were singing, it’s a lovely place just now and I can’t wait for the linnet to return.

  5. Sounds like the start to a beautiful spring over there!

    • So far it is, but it’s worryingly dry. We’ve had so little rain over the last two years so droubt conditions have been declared here. It’s warm and sunny (18oC at the moment compared to the seasonal average of 9oC) but climate change is doing some scary things. And migration patterns of many of our birds are already changing, is that something that’s happening in your part of the world too?

      • We have had strange weather, Finn, in that last year they said we had four times the normal amount of snow in the mountains with two weather systems hitting us a week from March to May…and then this year has had much less snow and weather than normal. I don’t know about migration patterns, though….

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