Sunday, 17 February 2013


Continuing this series of birdy posts about species recorded in the Filnore Woods bird survey which was published on this site on 26th November.

Have you ever noticed a huge bird sitting hunched on a roadside fence post and thought "I've just seen an eagle!" ? 
I have.  But in the south-west of England it's much more likely to be a buzzard. 
The usual way I notice them is the rather plaintive flight call sometimes called mewing.  It goes down in pitch towards the end, which gives it it's sad feeling.  It's a bit like that bird of prey you hear in cowboy films  -  a sure sign that "someone's gonna die today."
When you hear the cry look up and you will probably see the buzzard soaring on air currents with its wing spread wide and motionless in a shallow v-shape.  Occasionally you may see crows or gulls mobbing the buzzard in the sky.  They don't like birds of prey.
Someone probably is gonna die when you hear that cry, but it will most likely be a vole or possibly a rabbit 

Field vole from Devon Wildlife Trust

Buzzards do also take humbler fare like insects and earthworms.  This is why they like to hunt over grassland although they nest in tall trees.  You don't get field voles without fields.  So a combination of woodland and grassland such as we maintain at Filnore Woods, is an attractive habitat for buzzards. 
They usually eat their prey on the ground.

They are also partial to pheasant chicks, which has given rise to a bit of controversy.  Gamekeepers want the ever increasing buzzard population controlled, while organisations like the RSPB say no bird of prey should be shot or poisoned for sporting reasons.  I think there is a middle way.  I'm definitely not a fan of pheasant shoots but they do ensure that some wild country is conserved.  And the explosion in the population of buzzards may be in some way related to human activity.  We are part of the natural scene.
But when you hear that imperious cry and see that noble bird soaring like our equivalent to the condors of the Andes, you have to feel privileged and glad that they are there.

For opposing views on buzzards and pheasant chicks look at the Countryside Alliance's website, RSPB and  George Monbiot's blog for 24th May on the guardian website.
Google 'buzzards and pheasants' and on page two there is a jolly good (haw haw) forum for gun dog owners .    I won't make a comment.  Read it yourself.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Clearing the way

At the southern end of Cuckoo Pen, between posts 19 and 12, the path had got very overgrown and so it was not drying out.  In fact it was a bit of a quagmire.
We decided to cut back the brambles which you can see on the right of the picture below. 
So we did! - sorry for the crummy picture below,  taken on my phone. 

Looking up the path before . . .

. . . during . . . 

. . .  and after, when we had burnt all the brambles we had harvested.  There is now a wide path up the Jubilee Way between Cuckoo Pen and the old hedgeline

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Dunnocks are singing

At last we have had some sun and the merry sound of birdsong has increased.  Robins and great tits are the most common songs at the moment but the other day I heard a familiar voice.  I had forgotten who it belonged to.  It was a bit like a robin and a bit like a wren but without much shape to the song - no beginning or ending.  Just a chattery, chirrupy burble that rattled along and after a short pause was repeated.  Then suddenly I saw him sitting on a wall -  Denis the Dunnock.  Also known as hedge accentor or hedge sparrow, though he is much shyer and more fragile looking than a true sparrow. 

from the onejackdawbirding blog
He spends most of his time fossicking around on the ground like a mouse, in and out of the undergrowth, where he hunts for insects and spiders with his thin little bill.
I say 'him' but you can't really tell the males from the females.  They can, of course, but their sex life is unusual.  They are rather promiscuous and a female may have several boyfriends at the same time.  The males are also likely to be two timing.  They don't seem to mind and one nestful of nestlings may have three or more adult birds feeding them. 
They nest in thick scrub so we will be careful not to destroy any more bramble patches at Filnore Woods after the end of February, when the nesting season starts.
As well as the bubbling song they have a loud 'tseep' call which they repeat, especially when two male birds are competing for territory.  Perhaps they do mind sharing after all.
If you get this direct to your email you won't be able to hear the song on the video below but you can if you visit 'Filnore Woods Blog' at

Video by Alex Sally on YouTube

Monday, 4 February 2013

Colonisation of bramble patch

The welcome area, which was cleared of brambles last spring (see post 27/12/2012), is still sprouting brambles and nettles but some other plants are moving in already.  This includes several tufts of grass - not sure what species yet -

some cranesbills
common dock

spear thistle


white dead nettle
buttercup (of course)
and red campion

Looking forward to more new arrivals and lots of flowers this summer