A pair of local red list birds

In a recent post I talked about the plans by the local council to develop our greenbelt land and our campaign to prevent it. I provided species lists of my sightings on the land to counter their claims that the proposed development would pose no danger to any of our red listed wildlife.

Here are a pair of those red list birds that I photographed this year to prove to the powers that be that they are actually there! Despite the council’s environmetal survey concluding that there are no red list species to be found, these two species nest here every summer.

The first is the corn bunting (Emberiza calandra, Dansk: bomlærke):

This year has been a good one for corn bunting around Histon, several times I’ve counted flocks of 20+ individuals and they have been present every time I walk around the fields since they arrived in the spring. The corn bunting is red listed due to historical and more recent population declines, most likely as a result of modern farming methods. Numbers dropped by 89% between 1970 and 2003.

They live on arable farmland and feed primarily on seed and invertebrates during the summer. They also nest on the ground so overall their lifestyle is really not compatible with modern mechanised, chemical intense, farming methods. Which, as a result of the numbers I see here, makes my neighbourhood an important place for them. In the year 2000 there were 8500-12000 ‘territories’ (individuals or breeding pairs) in the UK so the several tens of my local birds are a small but important fraction of the total.

And the other red list species which I see regularly throughout the summer is the linnet (Carduelis cannabina, Dansk: tornirisk). The linnet is a finch which also feeds on seed and insects and is also red listed due to big decreases in its population, 57% between 1970 and 2008. But the good news for linnets is that although their numbers are decreasing in England and Wales they are increasing in Scotland and Northen Ireland.

A cock linnet is a handsome bird with a crimson spot on his forehead and cerise chest plates, neither of which are, alas, particularly prominent on this one:

Cock linnet

The linnet has a grey head and the pale grey spot on its cheek, which is prominent on this one, is diagnostic of the species. The linnet can be seen here in the winter in large flocks unlike the corn bunting which disappears from the Histon fields to wherever they go to in the winter after the harvest. The harvest was started here, and finished I think, last week, so I probably won’t see another corn bunting until next spring.

The linnet was immortalised in a 1920’s music hall song called ‘My old man (said foller the van)’. This song is about a family having to do a moonlight flit because they can’t pay the rent, and after they’ve filled the removal van there’s no room for the wife so she has to follow behind on foot:

My old man said “Foller the van,
And don’t dilly dallyon the way”.
Off went the van wiv me ‘ome packed in it,
I followed on wiv me old cock linnet.
But I dillied and dallied, dallied and I dillied
Lost me way and don’t know where to roam.
Well you can’t trust a special like the old time coppers
When you can’t find your way ‘ome.

Back in those days cock linnets were commonly kept as caged domestic pets because of their pleasant song, hence the mention in this ditty. Fortunately for the linnet though they are no longer held captive.

(In case you’re wondering, the ‘dillying and dallying‘ involved the poor girl stopping off in the pub, getting drunk, and then, not knowing where she was going, she got impossibly lost.)

12 responses to “A pair of local red list birds

  1. Pingback: The birds were twittering, and so am I | The Naturephile

  2. Good for you, Finn! You’re the Greenbelt Guardian. 😉

    • Hello Ruth, I love that appellation! From now I shall wear a green cape and green boxer shorts outside my jeans and introduce myself as ‘GG – The Greenbelt Guardian’ 😉

  3. I continue to be mightily impressed by your ability to tell all these little brown jobs apart. The lighting in that second shot is glorious. Have you thought of making your photographs into cards or a calendar? I’m thinking the RSPB might be interested. I enjoyed the ditty. 🙂

    • It’s much easier to tell the LBJ’s apart when you see them close. You couldn’t mistake a corn bunting for a linnet… or a reed bunting for that matter. I have thought of making a calendar but I never thought I had enough high quality images. But I probably do now. I’ll give it some thought.

  4. Your sightings list and photos should be strong evidence for the council. I wish you great success in averting the development!

    • Thanks Terry, the bulk of the local development has been shelved, hopefully with a small amount of consideration for the local wildlife! But I don’t know for how this project will remain on the shelf. Central government here in the UK has put local goverment under tremendous pressure to generate income, so the council is doing what it has to do. It means that us residents have to remain vigilant and ensure only appropriate developments get sanctioned!

  5. Vicki (from Victoria A Photography)

    I vaguely seem to remember linnets were talked about in English Medieval manuscripts and records. Have I got the right bird?

    It’s well worth sharing photos & records.

    At least 3 different bird species have been added to the ‘tourist’ brochures for my local Royal Botanic Gardens (from the photos I shot and handed over to their office). It’s only regular visitors like myself that spot some of the birds in certain areas.

    How can local councils draw conclusions about local bird life, if they don’t have a regular observer that’s out there every day.

    • Hello Vicki, I’m unaware of the medieval manuscripts, do you know what they were or what they pertained to?

      I’m going to contact the local wildlife organisations and work out the best way to disseminate my data. You’re absolutely right about it being the regular watchers that notice the important stuff, and it’s great that the Botanic Gardens are using your pictures to illustrate their brochure.

      With regard to the council, I think they believe the findings that best fit their own ends. The survey itself was commissioned by the agents the council had engaged to manage the development, and they in turn ensured the survey took place when there was the minimum amount of wildlife to be counted in the short space of time they were there. So it was easy for them to be truthful and at the same time allay the fears of anyone who doesn’t have detailed knowledge of the area.

  6. Nice post. Do you give your corn bunting and other records to the local biodiversity record centre? Then the council would (probably) not be able to ignore them. Bird Records can go to BTO’s Bird Track as well – I’m transferring my historic records at present.

    I’ve scheduled a tweet for tomorrow linking to the post – it would be more effective if you had a Twitter presence.

    • Thanks Paul, I don’t submit them to any organisation, I simply record them and make the records available online. I’m intending to check out the recording options and esablish a Twitter presence but I haven’t got round to it yet. It’s on the ‘to do’ list!

  7. Pingback: Save Scottish corn buntings | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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