Cowslips and corn buntings

When spring sprung this year it sprung in style and it was quite glorious. At that time of year the migrants return from distant lands and recolonise the countryside.

One bird that also returns to the farmland around Histon, but from closer to home, is the corn bunting (Emberiza calandra, Dansk: bomlærke). The corn bunting is a resident breeder in the UK, but as with most other species local to me it disappears from the fields round here as soon as the harvest begins, usually during the first week in August, not to return until March or April.

Male corn bunting taking flight from the top of the hawthorn blossom

The corn bunting is a lovely creature which is very distinctive when you know it. From a disatnce it looks like another random little brown bird, but it sits atop the wheat stems and the hedgerows calling and the call can be heard from many metres away. And like most little brown guys, when you see them close up they don’t appear quite so uninteresting.

A few months ago I got involved with a group of local people here who were working to prevent the development of this farmland for housing by our local council. The council said they had done an environmental survey and they provided us with a copy. It was an interesting insight into how these people work. The survey was commisioned by the agent the council had employed to manage the development (conflict of interest?), and it was undertaken the week after the harvest. The  conclusion in the survey was that there would be little or no damage to the local environment and no red listed or BAP (Biodiversity Action Plan) species would be affected. But I know from my recordings over the last five years that virtually all the wildlife – birds, mammals and insects – disappears as soon as the harvest starts. But my records, which I made available to the council,  also show that I have recorded 74 bird species there of which no less than 13 are red listed! Including the humble corn bunting.

The plan to develop the land was subsequently rejected and I hope my data played a part in the decision making process.

All the pictures in this post were taken on a sunny Sunday aftenoon at the end of April and another handsome bunting which frequents the drainage ditches and the hedgerows and was much in evidence was the reed bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus, Dansk: rørspurv).

Male reed bunting resplendent in his black cap and moustaches

Whilst the buntings, finches and other small passerines were announcing their availability from the top of the undergrowth a buzzard patrolled the skies above looking for prey:

Buzzard, Buteo buteo, (Dansk: musvåge)

And one of my favourite harbingers of fair weather to come is the cowslip:

Cowslip, Primula veris

Cowslip flowers were picked in the not too distant past to make wine with, but as it is no longer common this practise has waned. Despite that, the seed is now included in commercial wild seed mix and the cowslip can be seen in large numbers on seeded motorway verges. This one is not one of those though, it is one of thousands lining a drainage ditch on a farm in Histon.

A carrion crow (Corvus corone, Dansk: sortkrage) was perched precariously on top of the hedge along the cowslip ditch and a hare was also close by and watching intently to make sure the dog kept a safe distance! The local hares seem fairly relaxed about the dog even though he’s a lurcher and can still move pretty rapidly. May be they can see that he’s too old to pose a real threat.

European or brown hare (Lepus europaeus)

This year seems to have been good for hares and I see them in many of the local fields in good numbers almost every time I venture there. There are also plenty of rabbits, but the hares are easily distinguished by their size, they are much bigger than rabbits, and the hares have very long ears with distinctive black tips which the rabbits don’t.

This was my first real sunny warm outing of the year and it gave me a good feeling that this year may turn out to be a good one for wildlife. And generally it’s living up to its billing. So far…

15 responses to “Cowslips and corn buntings

  1. Finn, it was interesting to read about your abundant rabbits and hares. Ww are experiencing a rabbit explosion this year! Sometimes I will see four or five together! The coyotes are happy.

    • We jhave the same situation here, when the rabbit population explodes the foxes are very well fed. We also have myxomatosis which sweeps through every few years and decimates them. Do you have that too? It destroys rabbits over here but it doesn’t affect the hares even though the fleas that carry the virus live on hares too.

  2. Pingback: A pair of local red list birds | The Naturephile

  3. Oh, and the hare…gorgeous.

  4. Fabulous photos and information. Hmm, the skulduggery of developers doesn’t surprise me sadly. But it’s really heartening to hear that your recordings played a part in the development being turned down. It goes to prove that this kind of data is really valuable.

    • They really are complete scumbags. They’ll destroy anything if it means them making a few quid now that it’s socially acceptable to justify everything if it turns a profit. Totally depressing really. But at least this time they’ve been stalled.

  5. Wonderful post, even if spring is long gone. Love the flying guy…

  6. Lovely reading about your wildlife on the other side of the world. We have been supplementing our wrens food along with our Grey cuckoo thrushes as it has been a pretty cold year this year. Can’t wait to see what eventuates in summer 🙂

    • Hello Fran, apologies for the delay in replying to you, I’ve been off on holiday for the last week – it was lovely! There’s lots of summer stuff still to come from this end of the globe. Good to hear that you’re feeding your birds too, they need all the help they can get in these days of wild and unpredictable climatic phenomena.

  7. Many congratulations on your success saving what is clearly some valuable wildlife habitat, and for having written, and doubtless photographic records to back you up! Let’s hope the developers don’t manage to sneak around within your local council and get in some other way.
    Corn Buntings are lovely aren’t they? Very laid-back birds and a frequent sight and sound on walks in Spain perched on fence posts and overhead cables; I haven’t seen one in North Wales, although from old accounts of the area I understand they used to be abundant here. Enjoy what’s left of summer.

    • Alas, in this instance the council is the developer – although it was their agent that commissioned the environmental survey. But it would have been someone with intimate knowledge of the area who advised on the timing. Scumbags!

      I like the corn buntings, they’re one of my favourites – rare, but one of the easier birds to photogrpah when you do find one.

  8. How gratifying to be able to produce your data and contribute to the cause, I’m sure it must have made an impact. It’s a good example of how we have to constantly be on guard in situations like this where results can be completely skewed to suit the objectives of a developer. Your photos are glorious as always and I love the beautiful buntings.

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