Monday, February 27, 2012

Bayfield and beyond. A short walk in North Norfolk

The view towards Blakeney Church from
 Cley Beach in late winter with brent geese flying by

North Norfolk is one of those special parts of Britain that has been less impacted by the Twentieth Century than most other places. The salt and fresh marshes, the sand and shingle beaches, the straggling web of quiet lanes between brick and flint villages in a patchwork of woods, fields and meadows across the gently rolling landscape. This is an idyllic location preserved thanks in no small part to not being on the way to anywhere. As with many out-of-the-way places Norfolk is a haven for all kinds of wildlife, especially birds. The long sand and shingle coast projects into the shallow North Sea and is the first landfall for many migrating birds and wondering vagrants making this county one of the supreme birdwatching areas in Britain.

Old oak trees are a rich source
of food and habitat for birds
and insects
The well known sites such as Titchwell, Holkham, Blakeney Point and Cley are justly famous, boasting large numbers of resident and migrating species as well as outstanding rarities. It is, however, possible to go for a walk almost anywhere along Norfolk coast or in the rural hinterland and gather a species list that would be the envy of many birders in the majority of the UK. As an example, the three-mile circular Bayfield Bird Walk that passes our Glandford shop takes in a mixture of open arable fields, plantation and ancient woodland and river meadows. It is a gentle walk with shallow gradients and firm paths, taking around an hour-and-half to two hours to complete and there's even a café half way round (soon to be two when the eagerly anticipated Art Café opens in the next few weeks). Unremarkable as this sounds the diversity of habitats and the environmentally conscious farm management of the Estate makes it possible to get a respectable tally of species at any time of the year. Two weeks ago I picked up my binoculars, scope and camera and headed out up the track. By the end of my meander I returned with a bird list including marsh, coal and long-tailed tit, treecreeper, nuthatch, goldcrest, lesser redpoll, common buzzard, sparrow hawk, little egret and white-fronted goose. As well as the birds there were common frogs, muntjac and roe deer, bluebells just starting to come up and snowdrops. One of my favourites are the magnificent veteran trees. These are not hard to spot on account of their size and the fact they don't move around very much, but they represent great continuity in the landscape over many centuries, Bayfield having some oaks that were likely saplings when William Shakespeare was just a little-known actor who could write a bit. All in all not bad for short walk on a quiet Friday afternoon!
Snowdrops by the path.
Click for more photos
from the walk

The relaxed nature of my perambulation was not impeded by taking my scope with my thanks to the Cley Spy Mulepack, turning my 80mm Swarovski and tripod into a comfortable backpack, leaving my hands free to use my binoculars and camera. Without the Mulepack I would have probably not taken the scope with me and so missed out on close-up views of the female sparrow hawk in the woods. The features of the Mulepack are demonstrated by the boss in a video on our website.

Cley Spy

Monday, February 20, 2012

Getting seedy

As a follow up to the first blog here is a brief guide to the varieties of bird food we sell and what species you can hope to attract.
The key to a diversity of birds in the garden is regular feeding and a diversity of food, every species having its preference. If the birds in your area know they can visit your garden any time and be guaranteed a refuel then numbers will build up and, especially in hard weather, your feeders will be providing a lifeline. Established feeding sites can even turn up the occasional rarity, like the Arctic redpolls that have been here in Norfolk at Titchwell and Kelling this winter.
Below is a round up of the seed available from Cley Spy and what you can hope to attract.

Sunflower hearts
High energy and low effort. With no husks to remove sunflower hearts offer a quick and easy calorie-rich feast, making them attractive to most garden birds.

Black and striped sunflower seeds
Popular with greenfinch and chaffinch, but also eaten by other finches and tits.

Niger seed
Favoured by smaller-billed species such as dunnock, robin, siskin and redpoll. Niger in feeders and scattered loose on the ground can draw large flocks of siskin and redpoll, especially if there is good habitat near by.

Cley Spy Wild bird seed mix (white millet, black sunflower seed, wheat, cut maize, red milo, flaked maize and aniseed)
A lot of species can find something to their taste in this selection and is good for scattering on the ground for collard dove, blackbirds, dunnock and house sparrow. This broad appeal means a seed mix is a good way of attracting a range of birds if you have limited room for feeders.

Fat balls
Good for when the weather turns cold, lots of calories requiring little effort to get at.

The position of feeders is also important, as small birds don't like to make themselves vulnerable by crossing open spaces or being to far from cover. The best place to hang feeders is within a few feet of a thick hedge or some tall shrubs, out of reach of any local cats, but of course in sight of some where you can sit and watch unseen. Even if your garden is the size of a postage stamp you may be surprised by what comes visiting for a snack.

We stock a range of feeders all the foods mentioned above in 1-5kg bags and our Wild Bird Seed Mix also in 25kg sacks. Come and visit us at Glandford to see the full range.

Cley Spy

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Glandford Finch Invasion, or The Very Hungry Carduelis

Since moving to our new shop at the top of the yard we have been enjoying some spectacular sights of large flocks of finches and buntings feeding on the field behind. In addition to the more common greenfinch and chaffinch, there have been dozens of reed bunting, bramblings and redpolls, occasional tree sparrows and linnets numbering in hundreds. This diversity and quantity of seed-eating birds is not often seen in the twenty-first century and is usually just a nostalgic memory of the veteran birder's childhood in a pre green revolution countryside.


A feast for finches

The seed-rich crop behind the Glandford shop.
   So why are they here? Well, it comes down to food. To stand a chance of surviving the cold winter small birds need to have access to a reliable supply of high-energy food, and the crop in the field behind the shop provides just that. As part of the Bayfield Estate's Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) agreement this field was sown with a mixed crop of seed-baring plants including sunflowers, millet, buckwheat, fat hen, linseed and kale. This crop will be left standing for two years and in the next few months the seeds missed by the birds will be germinating to become next winters banquet. Schemes like the HLS are helping to slow and in some cases reverse the appalling decline in farmland birds across Europe and when coupled with conservation-minded management, as here at Bayfield, they can recover sights and sounds of the countryside that could so easily have been lost for ever.

We have been tempting a few chaffinches, greenfinches and bramblings a bit closer to the back door with some of our Wild Bird Seed mix which is proving nearly as popular as the four acres of nosh in the field!

The reliable supply of birds has proved very useful for our customers when testing bins and scopes because they give an opportunity to use the kit 'in the field' before they buy. As I type this I am watching a male reed bunting moulting into its black head markings through the new Leica Trinovid 8x42 ( Is a few corn buntings to much to ask for?

There are photos and videos of some of the birds and the field on our Flickr site