Monday, 21 January 2013

Supplementary Feeding - Three weeks on

If ever conditions were sent to test out supplementary feeding of farmland birds, we have had them this last week. Snow and frost, with temperatures ranging from 3  to minus 4 degrees Celsius, has painted a wintry landscape. Whilst there is some picturesque scenery, it brings a multitude of problems for farmland birds. Shelter, warmth and food for starters, without keeping an eye out for the sparrowhawk or prowling village cats.

Teasels in Wild Bird Covers

Our HLS mix contains 65% wheat and oilseed rape, to which we have added oats, linseed, canary seed, millet and black sunflowers. Some is fed by hoppers and the rest, keeper James Watchorn is scattering around the farm tracks.

 Hopper with Pan feeder underneath and Manola on top

The Loddington 'Big Bird Feeder'

The results have been instantaneous in fields near the buildings with chaffinch, blackbird, house sparrow, collared dove and robins being instantly recognisable. Although these are not the birds we are particularly targeting at Loddington, they are no doubt benefiting from some extra food.

More shy and difficult to spot are our target birds, yellowhammers, reed buntings, tree sparrows and skylarks.  Linnets are foraging in the remaining linseed and will hopefully make use of the extra feed soon.

There are a couple of observations to share; the first is there are some less welcome visitors, namely crows, jackdaws and wood pigeons. No solution for this problem when scattering grain but we may need to put some wire mesh around hoppers if they start congregating in large numbers.

Secondly there are some areas of the farm where historically small flocks of birds have been seen where you don't expect them. Some in open expanses of farmland with little wild bird cover - but on closer investigation there is a thick hedge and a bramble thicket. Some chaffinches and yellowhammers particularly like it near the farm yard where spilt grain and tailings provide easy pickings. We didn't expect to see them marauding up and down a beetle bank, once again on open farmland.

Whilst there are some real songbird experts at Loddington, as the farm manager I have a lot to learn and am searching for some better binoculars!!

Friday, 4 January 2013

Met Office v Loddington

I thought long and hard about how to write an interesting blog about rainfall statistics. I'm not sure its possible, but I would like to muse over the concept of using general statistics and secondly the MET Office wettest year figures.  Now the headline grabbing phrase was '2012 was not the wettest year on record in the UK', we had 6.6 mm more rain in 2000. The table below is from Met Office figures.

Top five wettest years in the UK
1337.3 mm
1330.7 mm
1309.1 mm
1295.0 mm
1283.7 mm

Generalisations are great for 'headlines and soundbites' but often leave many 'statos' yearning for more detailed figures for our region or farm. The 14% harvest yield reductions muted in October by the NFU harvest survey had me screaming that our harvest yield reduction was at least double this figure. Yes ... I know the figures are averaged out across the country and I filled in the survey so my yields are in there.

So with this in mind, lets look at the Met Office precipitation in individual UK countries; 2012 was the wettest year on record for England, third wettest for Wales, 17th wettest for Scotland and ......blimey Charlie it was 40th wettest for Northern Ireland. Now I am happier that its a bit more in perspective..... but perhaps we could drill down to the parish of Loddington and Launde in Leicestershire ?

This scene captured in the mid 1990's was repeated again in December 2012

So I compared our automatic weather station with my neighbour Richard Wright and settled on this 20 year set of data (we had more but there is a limit) . Brace yourself here comes the graph that will show you that we had 1036mm (40.8 in) in 2012 compared to 859 mm (33.8in) in 2000.

More importantly we had twice as much rain as last year, but our 20 year average is 738mm (29.1 in)
...... oh no I've fallen into the trap of generalisation. You should be gently nodding off now....