on the farm
As dusk falls on Buckenham Farm, a magnificent bird-watching
spectacle is about to begin.
light of the day fades, hundreds of Rooks gather on the fields for one last feed
before they roost for the night.
on the farm - a magnificent display of winter wildfire|
Rook is the term used to describe any bird from the group, 'corvidae', which includes
Jackdaws, Crows and Magpies.
There's a well-known saying - "a Crow
in a crowd is a Rook, a Rook on its own is a Crow" - and this is never more
true than during the nightly roost, where the calls of thousands of birds ring
through the flock as they circle the trees.
Rooks are often thought of
as pests who feed on dead meat and swipe any small object left unattended in their
But these groups of birds are actually quite useful, feeding on
grubs and worms, which might otherwise damage the crops, from freshly-turned farm
They also help prune the crops, picking at the corn when it begins
to poke through and continuing until it has grown two more inches, at which point
they leave it alone to flourish.
That's why Buckenham Farm does everything
it can to protect the thousands of Rooks that roost there every night, when other
farmers would rather see the back of them.
Jackdaw is Britain's smallest crow and is so-called due to its distinctive cry
- a high-pitched metallic sound which sounds like it is calling out its own name.
black with a grey nape and shoulders and a short, stubby bill, Jackdaws prey on
small animals and insects, as well as seeds, berries, fruit and any other scraps
they can find.
Numbers of Jackdaws are thriving due to their varied diet,
despite the fact that until recently they were controlled by gamekeepers to prevent
them from outnumbering other species.
Natural scavengers at heart, Jackdaws
will quite happily take over the nests of larger birds to make their home, nesting
in colonies of 20 or more birds.
Frequently mentioned in folklore thanks
to their gregarious nature, they're also famous for stealing the eggs of other
birds, a trait common among the corvidae family.
One of our best-known and best-loved farm birds,
the Skylark is in serious decline due to the rise of intensive farming, which
robs them of their natural habitat.
A small brown bird with a small crest
and white-sided tail, numbers have decreased so dramatically over the last 25
years that they are now recognised on the World Conservation Union's Red List
of threatened species.
Unlike the more prosperous Jackdaw, numbers of Skylarks
are currently falling by one per cent annually - that's 11,500 which vanish from
our landscape every year.
Mainly found in lowland areas are relatively inconspicuous
while on the ground, Skylarks are most often recognised by their call - a continuous,
warbling song - which is not a song at all but actually a contact call between
Black and white opportunists
has been said that the familiar children's rhyme, "one for sorrow, two for
joy", refers to the large numbers of Magpies, known as parliaments, who group
together every Spring.
Magpies are most often associated bringing bad luck,
which may come from biblical times when a lone magpie was said to have perched
on Jesus' cross.
But it's not just the Bible which condemns the Magpie
- gamekeepers have controlled their numbers for years.
What most people
don't know is that despite their reputation, Magpies can be very useful pest-destroyers,
feeding on everything from insects, berries and fruit to carrion and small rodents.
are just as opportunistic as the Jackdaw when it comes to food - having adapted
to suburban environments, the common Magpie is often seen swooping in and taking
food from picnic tables and patios alike.
Bird watchers visiting Buckenham Farm should also look
out for Brown Hares, which live above ground in hollows, shallow depressions called
forms, on the fields where they graze.
Twice the size of rabbits, these
hares are easily recognised by their yellowish fur and long, black-tipped ears.
they can be difficult to spot running through the grass - these nifty hares can
reach speeds of up to 65km per hour and are most active at night.
sometimes described as "mad March hares" due to sightings of the female
fighting off an advancing male by sitting on her hind legs and "boxing"
with her paws.
nearby Strumpshaw RSPB Reserve, a former farm where cattle and sheep still graze,
is another great place to visit if you're in the area.
It's home to the
shy and curious Chinese Water Deer or hydropotes inermis.
meaning unarmed, refers to the fact that they have no antlers, only loose tusks
on their upper jaw which can be held backwards for grazing or brought forwards
And the only way to tell the difference between the sexes is
that the males have longer tusks - which might be hard to spot unless you're lucky
enough to get up close.
Both sexes have reddish brown coats, which lighten
to a sandy brown in winter, and have no tails with just a small bob visible as
they run through the grass.
These small deer are believed to be the most
primitive surviving members of the Cervidae family, and were imported to Woburn
Park in the early 20th Century where a small number escaped into the surrounding
There is a feral population of around 2,000 in the UK, and
due to their preferred habitat - any area of undisturbed grassland near a watercourse
- they haven't spread out much beyond the fens of East Anglia.
high mortality rate due to foxes attacking their young fawns, Chinese Water Deer
are faring far better here than China, with their numbers making up 10 per cent
of their native population.
They're notoriously shy creatures and difficult
to spot, preferring to hide in dense cover, only peering out of the grass to survey
The best time to chance a glimpse at these reclusive creatures
is at dusk, when their activity is at a peak.
Be quiet - the slightest movement
will startle them and you'll see them running away or making a short bark to indicate
alarm or warning.