CHAIN MAIL

Issue 145    Dec 1st   to   March 1st   2020

NATURE NOTES     

Autumn, or “The Fall” as the Americans call it, is a new season which I look forward to every year.   The expectation of seeing our winter visitors always excites me and, equally, I like to see the changes in the colour of the leaves on the trees. 

Most birders think redwings will be the first winter visitors we will see in this area but I think fieldfare will arrive slightly earlier.  These winter thrushes will stay until next March but I have seen them in May.  However I don’t think they will breed here.

The myriad shades of green on the leaves will turn to yellow or brown or even red before they fall off.   Leaves seem to change colour gradually from October onwards.  Obviously the changes depend on the species and the “nationality” or origin of the tree. As usual, the changes inspire me to drive over to Westonbirt Arboretum to see the magnificent collection of trees there.  Last year they had a “son et luminere” and sky walk which was quite spectacular.

One ecologist friend said there is no need to drive so far  … she said you should drive out to the Savernake Forest and enjoy the walks around there.   “After all the trees there are all native species and the large oaks are spectacular.”   Perhaps seeing the great oak trees with their metal bands and the wonderful beech trees is worth the visit at any time of the year.

English Partridge 
Myself and other nature lovers are very worried about the drastic decline in our English Partridge.   The English Partridge is also known as the grey partridge.  It used to be a common sight in the countryside but I must confess I have not seen one for several years.  Records show that it has declined some 80% since the war.  No wonder it is on the red list and desperately in need of help.

This picture used by the RSPB. unfortunately it does not show the red around the face. The bird is very similar to the French Partridge but these birds have a cream eye- stripe and are quite common. Sadly every field you look in, nowadays,  may have a covey of dumpy little birds in them but the dumpy birds will always be French Partridges.  They are also known as red legs for obvious reasons. 

Understandably landowners, who rely on shooting to keep themselves solvent, will not  raise English Partridge.  Notoriously they do not stay around the rearing pens to be shot. My friends and I are trying to lure English partridges onto the Lambourn Downs.  We have put out a dozen barrel feeders in sheltered areas and keep them topped up with grain.

Furthermore we have cut the legs off  the pheasant feeders and replaced the metal feeding mechanism with plastic trays which fill automatically.  After much debate we decided to leave the feeders out all year round.   We think  these ground nesting birds will come to rely upon them.   Unfortunately we seem to be attracting dozens of pheasants and rooks.   They seem to know they are safe from the guns and enjoy free food.

One bonus from driving over the Downs every week is that we regularly see roe deer.   In one area there is a family of five.   A mother and twins plus two cousins roam regularly around the feeders.   My ecologist friend says the deer will not be affected by the grain from our feeders but it will kill sheep.   Thus we have to be very careful where we place our bins.    Another bonus is seeing hares.   They sprint away from our Landover before we can photograph them.

Finally, my favourite web site, the RSPB’s, says you will never find partridges in a pear tree … their web site is well worth a visit even if their asides are terrible.     

Richard Barker