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Binoculars have opened my eyes to woodland wildlife

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Buzzards consume pests such as rats and grey squirrels in large numbers

Buzzards consume pests such as rats and grey squirrels in large numbers

Buzzards consume pests such as rats and grey squirrels in large numbers

Cold hard weather is great for the sale of wood fuel but not so welcome for our wildlife.

The abundance of fruit and berries on the hedgerows this year should ensure, however, that both our resident and visiting songbirds will survive the hardships of winter 2015.

Looking out my office window I can see thrushes and blackbirds feasting among holly bushes that are still laden with scarlet berries.

Further afield, the hedgerows and woods are a hive of activity with numerous species rooting among the fallen leaves and searching for grubs and insects in every nook and cranny.

The tiny birds are the most entertaining to watch with wrens, blue tits, long tailed tits, tree creepers and gold crests all busily hunting up and down the tree trunks and searching for food among the branches.

It is difficult to get close to them without their taking flight but last year I purchased a better pair of binoculars from Bird Watch Ireland.

I now find a whole new world has opened up where all wildlife can be studied and observed undisturbed. The lenses will focus on a bird 300m away and show it clearly in all its fascinating detail.

Strange

This has in turn prompted me to try and learn more about the different species and be able to confidently identify them.

I originally thought one strange visitor to the bird table last winter was a snow bunting, but now I am not so sure after checking the appropriate websites,

There are also occasional appearances in our gardens of very pale chaffinches, which are of similar size to the bunting, and can look confusingly like them.

These are termed leucistic rather than albino as they have only lost some of the pigment in their feathers.

So much for my fleeting hope of having spotted a rare species!

Linear woodland edged with holly, blackthorn and hawthorn - and with species like hazel and rowan planted randomly along the edges - provides the ideal environment where nature can prosper.

The adjoining open pasture provides a bounty of worms and insects, while the woods deliver essential shelter and food in hard weather.

The remaining scattering of very old trees, many densely covered in ivy means the conditions on the farm are about as good as I can make them to ensure a healthy and diverse habitat.

Also resident in the woods are at least two nesting pairs of buzzards and while I have never been a great fan of birds of prey, I am beginning to appreciate their attributes.

While they are wonderful to watch in flight, I was always concerned when a sparrow hawk swooped on the bird feeders or a buzzard scared my chickens.

I do know that the presence of raptors is a good indicator of the overall health of the wild populations of prey species, but it can be a bit annoying to see songbirds killed prematurely.

The really good bit however is that buzzards consume rats in large numbers and also catch and eat that destructive pest, the grey squirrel.

Because of this I welcome them and do enjoy watching them in flight as they soar on thermals or drift casually through the trees.

It is hard not to fear though for the future of many of our more vulnerable songbirds, especially with the apparent increase in numbers of grey crows and magpies which are notorious nest robbers.

2014 was a mast year and the woodland floor is still strewn with quantities of beech nuts.

Source

Flocks of pigeons have arrived to feast on this bounty and they in turn provide an additional source of food for the buzzards.

It is interesting to observe how the availability of food and population goes hand in hand with booms and busts in the natural world

I read recently that there has been a major decline in the numbers of herring gulls over the past 20 years.

This is apparently because they formerly feasted on waste found in abundance on our municipal dumps.

Better management of landfill facilities has meant that this source of food is no longer available and the gulls have suffered as a consequence.

The large flocks of plover that used to visit the fields here each winter have all but disappeared but the woods and hedgerows are still well populated with a great variety of bird species.

Fortunately, the irrepressible robin is still sure to appear when I am digging or raking leaves and will frequently encourage me with some song, even in the depths of winter.

Give the songbirds a fighting chance

Road kill and careless  fly tipping of edible rubbish in ditches provides an easy source of food for magpies and grey  crows which are now so  plentiful that their numbers must be reduced.

A properly supervised Larsen trap will humanely control both species and in turn save a few lambs from having their eyes pecked out.

Life cannot be easy for the many farmland songbirds whose numbers are still declining, but we can all help them by providing more cover and leaving some field verges and corners to nature.

A few small plantations of mixed species of trees and shrubs also provide invaluable habitat and will reward us with extra birdsong in spring and summer.

jbarry@ independent.ie

Indo Farming