By Sarah Blyth, North Wessex Downs Farmland Bird Project Officer
In my second year at college I did an ornithology module. My teacher was this bird mad FWAG advisor and he instilled in me a deep seated enthusiasm for the countryside and the birds that dwell there that’s never gone away. I was out doing my first FEP when I decided that farmland birds was my thing – they were what I wanted to focus on and I landed the perfect job two years ago when I became the North Wessex Downs Farmland Bird Project Officer.
Based in the glorious rolling downs north of Wiltshire, I spend my days exploring an area that’s filled with nationally important populations of farmland birds, and that includes one of my favourite species – the ever elusive fat bird of the barley, otherwise known as the corn bunting.
Corn buntings are your typical little brown bird, and they get their nickname from their distinctive stout shape. They’re the first bird I look and listen out for when I see a field of rippling barley. I love them because of their quirky song and the dumpy shape they have sat on a post. If you get close enough to one, they have a distinctive diamond shaped patch of darker feathers on their fronts, a bit like they’re wearing a medallion; and a much chunkier beak than the other LBJs you’ll see on the farm.
In the spring and early summer they’re easiest to spot if you look along lines of fence posts on the edges of arable fields or at the scattered bushes across the downs, which they use as song posts. Corn buntings are territorial and will often sing from the same song posts throughout the season. Male corn buntings are polygamous and can often have 3 or 4 females in their territories – when I shared that snippet with my better half he laughed and told me one wife was enough!
Corn buntings feed on seeds throughout the year, nest on the ground in crops and feed their chicks on insects. They prefer spring crops to winter crops for nesting habitat, and generally choose to nest in the outer area of the crop. Using stewardship options we can provide a complete suite of habitat for corn buntings, and a whole host of other species. This winter look out for areas of wild bird seed mixture on farms. These act as giant bird tables and the bigger the area the longer they last.
The most exciting thing about working in the North Wessex Downs for me however isn’t the birds I work with. It is the enthusiasm of the farmers I get to meet and work with every day. Without their passion for the countryside and their dedication to provide habitat for farmland birds, the North Wessex Farmland Bird project would never have gotten off the ground. It’s been a privilege working with them for the last few years, and I hope that we continue to work together for the future of farmland birds for many years to come.
Very nice blog felicity and always pleasing when farmers praised for what they do as opposed to criticism and my guess is if we had more people meeting farmers and suggesting things for wildlife to them like yourself we would have lots more wildlife friendly farmers.