Monday, 19 November 2018

The Beast from the East ... and helping tree sparrows

Dusk ends the shift before 5:00pm. Beneath the Limes, collecting fallen leaves must wait until tomorrow. Half way there.
On the farm, before dawn - ravens, black, cronking through the autumn mist. Migrant fieldfares in vocal groups foraging for fruits and berries. Four pretty, white-rumped roe deer bouncing across a field of winter wheat.. We prepare ourselves for forecast wintery cold easterlies.

Juvenile tree sparrow
In the spring of 2018, the so-called 'Beast-from-the-East' brought late, icy, Siberian weather to our chilly hill.
Whilst the more fortunate could simply button up their coats, I wonder whether The Beast may have been deadly for some of our birds - notably our local population of tree sparrows..?  Raising two broods in our kitchen gable nest box during the previous year and regularly visiting the feeders throughout the winter, they have been absent from the garden since the cold spring weather 2018 and their breeding success was limited in the farm nesting boxes to four boxes.

The tree sparrow (Passer montanus) is the sociable, pretty cousin of that once ubiquitous Jack-the-lad, the house sparrow (Passer domesticus).
Both species are suffering significant decline.

nest box production line
Our volunteer effort is to support the tree sparrow population on New Farm, Redhill, Nottingham following Ian Newton's maxim that bird numbers are largely affected by food and nesting sites.

Over the past years our neighbours, Hammond Farms, have replanted hedgerows and woods, created a conservation pond, sown areas of dedicated bird seed and also provided seed in hoppers throughout the year - all to help farmland seed-eating birds.

Nest boxes were originally sited on the farm thanks to support from Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust. Working with a Duke of Edinburgh's scheme youngster we have made, repaired and re-sited 47 boxes so far this season. These are sited in groups of five or six in wooded areas around the farm. Tree sparrows are sociable and like to be in loose groups. the male bird likes a room of his own, and so siting boxes close to one another meets these two needs.

Each small box has a sloping removable but secure lid, 25mm entrance hole and perching nail. These boxes have been made using reclaimed tannalised gravel board. On siting the boxes we put a handful of leaf litter in the bottom of the box whose comfort may encourage birds to adopt the box, perhaps initially for roosting then for breeding.

Siting boxes with our young volunteer
Our target is to site a total of sixty this season before moving on to nest boxes for other species.

It may have been that our local tree sparrows did not die. Although usually very faithful to their local sites, we know that these little birds can be quite unpredictable. The thriving population of tree sparrows at Rutland Water upped sticks and vanished a number of years back. One of the birds was found two counties away. A bird from the RSPB colony at the Old Moor reserve in Yorkshire moved to Wales.

So, perhaps our birds are now happily relocated elsewhere.

Whatever happened, for those birds remaining we keep our fingers crossed for 2019.

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