We’ve had some lovely sightings treats for the start of December, so I’ll start with my personal favourite – the goldcrest. Along with the firecrest, which is similar in appearance and a little scarcer, the goldcrest is the UK’s smallest bird. It’s been spotted around the riverbank trail repeatedly over the past couple of weeks, and I was lucky enough to spot it in a tree near big hole on my way into work the other day. I saw a tiny little ball of dirty brown flutter up into an alder, so I got my binoculars on it. It had its back to me at first, but was preening its feathers, so I got a good glimpse of the bright orangey-yellow crest bordered with black on the middle of its head, and its beady little black eyes. Pine forests are the best place to see them, as their tiny beaks are perfectly suited to pick insects out of the crevices in pine boughs, although they are widespread and common across the UK, and can be seen ranging around with flocks of other small birds in autumn and winter.
Goldcrest image by John Bridges (rspb-images.com)
Another special sighting I’ve had lately has been of the goldeneye. Although visitors have been coming in with sightings of these lovely ducks almost daily, I only saw my first one at the end of last week, from Bob Dickens hide. They can look quite similar to tufted ducks at first glance, with their inky black bodies and pure white wings, but if you look closer, they also have white cheek patches and really do have yellowish-golden eyes! The males have a lovely greenish-black head, whilst the females are smaller and mottled grey with a chocolate brown head. Goldeneyes first bred in the UK in 1970, and since then birds have been attracted to nest in specially designed boxes put in trees close to water. In winter, birds from Northern Europe visit the UK. You can see them in the Highlands of Scotland in summer, where they breed.
Male and female goldenye image by Ben Hall (rspb-images.com)
A brown hare was seen on the Lin Dike Link trail on Sunday afternoon – hares can’t really be mistaken for rabbits – they are much larger, with incredibly long legs and long ears with black tips. Hares take shelter in a ‘form’, which is just a shallow depression in the ground, but when disturbed they can be seen bounding across fields in a zigzag pattern, propelled by their long legs.
Brown Hare image by Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)
Come and see us on the reserve to get your amazing winter wildlife sightings in our sightings book!
For today’s sightings blog, I may as well start with what I saw on my walk into work, which was very eventful indeed! On my way along the riverbank trail, I had a great view of a jay flying through the trees. This time of year is great for watching woodland birds, as most of the leaves have fallen so you can get a better view. Speaking of leaves, the leafy carpet covering the paths at the moment makes the walk very atmospheric. It’s great when the sun hits the ground and brings the autumn colours alive.
View along the riverbank trail this morning
On the way to Big Hole, I heard a high-pitched and creaky repetitive call to the right of the path – the laughing of the green woodpecker! I spun around just in time to see one fly off from the ground into the trees. Although green woodpeckers are spotted quite regularly on the reserve by visitors and rangers who are out and about, it’s only the third time I’ve ever seen one, so it was really exciting. They’re beautiful birds, with apple green backs, golden fronts and a crimson red cap – it definitely brightened up my morning!
Green woodpecker image by John Bridges (rspb-images.com)
Thinking it couldn’t get much better, I stopped by the Kingfisher screen on the off-chance that there would be a lovely flash of blue and orange to be seen on their usual perching stick over the stream – but no luck. I looked about a bit more, because you never know what you might see, and right in front of my eyes, much closer than they normally are, was the kingfisher! I didn’t really need my binoculars, but watching these beautiful little birds so close up is always spellbinding. I even got the extra treat of a little wren hopping through the undergrowth right by the kingfisher, before it took off, uttering its noisy call.
Wren image by John Bridges (rspb-images.com)
I eventually tore myself away before I was late for work, and just before I got to the visitor centre I had another treat in store – a female bullfinch in the trees around the boardwalk. Although they aren’t as eye-catching as the males with their peachy chests, they are still beautifully neat looking little birds, with a creamy fawn chest and a smart black cap.
Kingfisher image by John Bridges (rspb-images.com)
In other news, we’ve also had 24 goosanders and at least 17 goldeneyes seen on main bay this morning, as well as a nuthatch at Pickup and a great spotted woodpecker at the visitor centre. This time of year is fantastic for spotting all kinds of wildlife - why not come for a wander on the reserve and see what you can spot!
Today is a special day for RSPB Hope Farm. For the first time, reserve shops across the country are selling produce from the farm – quality extra-virgin rapeseed oil! To understand why this is such a fantastic occasion, a bit of background will come in handy...
Hope Farm farmhouse - image by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
The RSPB has owned Hope Farm in Cambridgeshire since 2000, and over the past 13 years, we’ve been trying out all sorts of ways to make the running of the farm more wildlife friendly. Over the past few decades, birds and lots of other wildlife associated with farmland have suffered serious declines due to intensification of farming practices, especially on arable farms where large and uniform swathes of crops are planted, thus destroying natural resources and habitats.
Hope farm is an arable farm, and through our work here we aim to demonstrate that good crops can be grown hand-in-hand with successful management for wildlife. Providing important habitats around the farm such as skylark patches, flower rich grassy field margins and unharvested wild bird covers have all combined to allow butterflies, bees, birds and lots of other wildlife to flourish on the farm.
Flower rich field at Hope Farm, 2012 - image by Andy Hay (rspb-imges.com)
All this hard work has meant that farmland bird species in serious decline have thrived here – skylarks have quadrupled in number, and linnet numbers have increased five-fold, while grey partridges and yellow wagtails have colonised the farm.
It’s a very exciting day, as we here at Fairburn have taken our delivery of the oil to be sold in our shop. A lot of the vegetable oil you buy in supermarkets comes from rapeseed, which has generally been processed on a massive scale; purification, grading and extraction processes remove all the distinctive character and taste of the oil. Hope Farm’s Love Nature extra-virgin rapeseed oil has not been processed this way – instead it was crushed and bottled in the same county as the farm itself, and is as close to natural as you can get.
Rape seeds from the 2012 Hope Farm crop - image by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
Apparently it has a distinctively nutty flavour, and can be used in any way in the kitchen, from dressing and dipping to frying and roasting! We’ll be doing taste-tests in the shop here at Fairburn, so come down and see us over the next few days to enjoy a taste of Hope Farm!
I’m definitely looking forward to trying some, not only because it’s supposed to be yummy, but because of what it symbolises – if we’re to save farmland wildlife in this country, something needs to change, and this might just be the beginning.