Snow outside, soft, warm bed inside - no competition!
As a result, we decided on a rare trawl around the local patch, following the tracks up to Murton Village and back. The snow blanket made everything look uniform, hiding any humps and hollows that add some variety to this otherwise uniform farmland landscape.
There was a distinct difference just as soon as we stepped from the suburban birdtopia, where starlings, blue tits and house sparrows filled the air with tweeting and squabbling, into a veritable agricultural desert
It was almost silent and there were few signs of life except for massing wood pigeons over near Earsdon and a magpie sitting in one of the few hawthorn trees that have been left in situ.
I often find this walk a little uninspiring but today its got me thinking. Some recent work on the culverted letch has left a great opportunity for some screen hedging and as soon as that thought entered my head it was obvious how much could be achieved here just by reinstating the hedgelines, filling in the gaps and giving the vista some character back. Without doubt it would also provide much more scope for birds and other forms of wildlife, especially if there was some rough grass and a little open water. Perfect for an agri-environment scheme to promote biodiversity. Not sure if this would be considered a priority though as it isn't in a key target zone. Even more worrying is the prospect that this area will probably be covered in houses before too long, like most of North Tyneside!!
Apart from a couple of crows and black headed gulls, there was really little about. A skein of 90 pink-footed geese announced their approach as they passed northwards. It always amazes me how these birds form such great formations, changing shapes every few moments almost like iron filings around a magnet.
At Murton, the hedges around the stables were filled with house sparrows, joined by a couple of blackbirds and blue tits but nothing exceptional. The return leg, across rougher ground, offered the prospects of better fare but this was shaping up to be nothing more than a pipe dream until we approached the old farm building. Suddenly we were met with a beautiful tinkling call as a yellowhammer perched on the tip of a hawthorn tree singing away. It was joined by another and then a third before the two newcomers flew behind the building. Against the snow and in full light from the warm sun, the bird looked magnificent, its markings crisp and sharp. A fourth bird appeared on the top of the building giving me hope that this "patch" might prove worth a regular visit.
We were able to get quite close to one bird which was feeding to the rear of the building. Two large rats were present and it appeared as if the birds were utilising areas where the rats were digging. At times, they were so close that it looked as if the rodent would turn on the bird and that would be one less farmland bird to record. I have no idea if rats would take a bird like that, but cant see any reason why they would not if food was scarce.
Apart from the robin singing in the trees on the final leg of the walk, that was it! It was a great walk because of the snow but those yellowhammers made it extra special.
Travelling up to Ash with Trish, we saw a short-eared owl on a fencepost at West Hartford and 9 grey partridge in a field near to Sheepwash. I was glad we took the long route!