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A monthly commentary on birds in and around The Farleighs.

 

I have lived in East Farleigh for more than thirty years. As well as witnessing the steep country-wide decline in bird life over that period, I've become closely involved in monitoring the changes and in finding ways to conserve what we still have.

 

And there are good things happening too, so I hope this contribution presents a mixture of what makes the study of birds so interesting, especially of those still seen around The Farleighs.

 

Ray Morris

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Visitors to the Medway valley

Posted on 27th April, 2018

Spring has finally arrived and the breeding season is under way. In mid-April, blue tits were already building nests in the five recently-erected nestboxes in East Farleigh churchyard – and I expect to find clutches of up to fourteen eggs when I check the nests at the start of May. At the same time, the great tits using the nest boxes in my garden were a little more advanced. When I checked them, the nests were complete, but looked empty. However, a probing finger revealed that each contained three cold eggs (half the full clutch of 6 – 8) buried deep in the animal-hair lining of the nest cup.

 

Male Great Tit feeding his mate as she incubates.

Note the animal hair lining of the nest - Blue Tits use feathers instead.

 

Virtually all small birds lay one egg a day, first thing in the morning after the shell has been added to the egg overnight as it descends the oviduct. The parents (usually, but not always, the female) only start incubating them when the clutch is complete. Great tits, however, have evolved the practice of concealing the eggs, out of sight of potential predators that might just happen upon the nest, until the last egg is laid and the female starts sitting on them. Watch this space for regular progress reports.

 

The explosive sound of a singing wren can be heard in just about every month of the year. But it is now finally getting down to mating, and raising young in a tiny domed nest in a crevice in a tree trunk, or tucked away in an untidy outbuilding. I’m currently watching one in an inaccessible corner of a girder under a tiny bridge. The male wren constructs several nests then, when he has attracted a mate, he allows her to choose the one she wants to breed in, and she furnishes her chosen nest with moss, feathers and lichen. Before you think “Ah, how sweet”, you need to know that while she is busy at the avian equivalent of Ikea, he is looking for another female to install in one of the other nests. Being so small, wrens are very vulnerable to long spells of freezing weather so having multiple mates and breeding attempts is an effective strategy for maintaining the species’ numbers.

 

Just when you need the rope!

 

If you happened to miss David Attenborough’s fascinating programme about eggs a few weeks ago it’s worth seeking it out on iPlayer.

 

A cuckoo was reported in the village on 11th April and has been heard almost daily since, and the explosive song of the blackcap (like a robin on steroids) is a daily feature in most gardens with a reasonable size tree. The swans on the river at East Farleigh almost certainly have eggs? Some village swan-watchers were concerned about one that often seems simply to be floating with its head tucked under a wing. Although many UK mute swans have been affected by avian flu this winter, there have been no signs in Kent’s swans, so it is unlikely to be ill. In this case it is probably a male who has little to do while his mate incubates the eggs. So he is just loafing: no comment needed ladies!

 

Another exciting visitor seen in the valley (perched on the pylon near Barnjet Priory on the other side of the river) is a peregrine falcon. Peregrines like nothing better than a plump pigeon, so they are now doing well in the South East where tall buildings and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of pigeons are to their liking. You can watch live video of the pair nesting on a specially constructed platform here. Norwich Cathedral Peregrines

 

Unfortunately these wonderful creatures are still relentlessly illegally persecuted, along with other birds of prey, in parts of northern England and Scotland where grouse are intensively reared for shooting for sport. So keep your eyes peeled for the fastest animal on earth, above us here in The Farleighs!

Does the early bird get the worm?

Posted on 24th March, 2018

Possibly. But as I wrote this for the Lifeline print version on 15th March, I’d just heard that the first chiffchaffs had arrived in Kent – as predicted in last month’s 'Feathers. Tiny, 7g scraps of flesh and feather that have flown from central Africa to make the most of our spring and summer. This one, that was ringed near Luddesdown, had a ‘pollen horn’!

 

This is the name given to the sticky accumulation of pollen and nectar above the bird’s bill. It gets this after repeatedly searching flowers for nectar to drink and any insects to eat. By analysing the pollen, scientists have identified nineteen different plants, dominated by eucalyptus, prunus and citrus, that the birds are relying on to fuel their migration journeys. With this information, conservation at their migration stopover sites can be helped by encouraging their favoured species of wild, and garden, plants

 

These birds are taking a gamble though, as we had a further two days of snow just a few days after they had arrived, when they would have been hard pressed to find the tiny insects they feed on, let alone a worm. But it must be worth their while as chiffchaff numbers have been increasing in recent years along with just a few other small birds – blackcaps and long-tailed tits included. But as the latter don’t winter in Africa or around the Mediterranean, it is likely that their numbers will have suffered in the recent weeks of freezing snow. Although you may have daffodils and crocuses already blossoming, warm weather is still some time away, during which all birds will struggle to find enough to eat in our food-impoverished countryside.

 

Sadly, as I’m writing this blog post, news has just emerged of a 30% drop in populations of farmland birds in France in the last ten years. Not entirely dissimilar to what has happened in the UK. As I’ve written before, enlightened farmers now plant special crops that are left through the winter specifically to support wildlife. Sunflowers often form part of, or even all, the crop. The large, oil-rich seeds are nutritious for both us and birds, and are a favourite of chaffinches and greenfinches in particular, two species that are declining in the UK. They also attract bramblings, close relatives of chaffinches that come here to avoid harsh Scandinavian winters.

 

This field of sunflowers in nearby Marden has attracted up to a thousand birds at a time this winter – a wonderful spectacle, especially when the local sparrowhawk skips over the hedge and they all take to the air in panic.

 

It would be an interesting activity for children (or older villagers enjoying an extended childhood) to select some sunflower seeds from their bird feeders and plant them up for the sunflower display this summer. As well as brightening up the village, the giant blooms would attract beneficial insects and the ripe seed heads could be left for the birds.

 

Meanwhile, especially as yet more snow and cold is forecast for Easter weekend, please keep your garden feeders topped-up while listening out for the first cuckoo. In recent years I have heard my first in East Farleigh round about April 17th. At the moment, cuckoos being satellite-tracked by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) are just preparing to cross the Sahara, so they still have a lot of flying to do! You can follow their progress here:

 https://www.bto.org/science/migration/tracking-studies/cuckoo-tracking

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Bird for All Seasons?

Posted on 25th February, 2018

East Farleigh has links with Sir Thomas More’s family – More was Henry VIII’s Chancellor and the subject of the film ‘A Man for All Seasons’ - and March is the month when we can hear ‘Birds for All Seasons’, as well as single-season visitors, around his daughter’s former home at Gallants Manor in Gallants Lane.

 

Our resident birds, like blackbirds and great tits, are all noisily advertising their readiness to breed. Females are being invited to share the males’ territory and help raise his young.

 

 

But it’s not all one-sided: like humans, the female is looking beyond a flashy-sounding song. She is searching for signs of health (the bright yellows of the male blackbird is an indication he has a good immune system) and a territory with secure nest sites and plentiful food (how many safe nest holes and potential caterpillars are on offer for the female great tit?). Scientists think, for example, that the colour of the male blue tit’s crown indicates the quality of the territory he controls: blue tits’ vision extends into the ultra-violet range so females really can spot the difference.

 

 

At the same time, on your walk through the village orchards, you’ll hear noisy winter visitors like fieldfares (a larger relative of blackbirds and thrushes) still ‘chak-chaking’ among the remaining apples. They are fattening-up in preparation for their return flight to Scandinavia – running out of energy halfway across the North Sea will put an end to their chances of raising a family.

 

As they leave, our first summer songbirds begin to arrive. In fact, as I write this on the last weekend of February, swallows and house martins have already been recorded in southern Europe, so they are well on their way back from their winter quarters in South Africa.

 

 

 

One of the first birds to arrive in the village is usually the chiffchaff. Males will start returning before the end of the month to lay claim to the best territories and advertise the fact with their incessant “chiff-chaff, chiff-chaff” song. They also need to feed voraciously on still-scarce insects to replace their reserves after the long flight from Africa. Like the blackbirds and great tits, they too need to look their best to impress the females who arrive a week or two later. 

 

But as I remarked in last month’s Farleigh Feathers, winter isn’t yet over; in the coming week we can expect really cold weather, with probably snow, blowing in from the north-east. This will restrict the early migrants to southern Europe for a while longer, but spells potential disaster for our small resident birds. They have just about exhausted the natural larder of seeds and insects, without which they will struggle to lay down enough fat to see them through the freezing nights. So they will depend more than ever on your garden feeders being kept topped-up with high calorie food (bread just won’t ‘cut the mustard’). If you run out of sunflower hearts or fatballs, a handful of porridge oats is always a good standby. They will also find unfrozen water difficult to come by; they need it just as much as we do, so keeping the birdbath free of ice could be a life-saver.

 

February: Not homeless, but in need of shelter

Posted on 28th January, 2018

In February, with the worst of winter possibly yet to come, birds are faced with a dual pressure. The first stirrings of mating behaviour are being felt; if you look at the male house sparrow’s bill it is turning black again as his testosterone starts to build up, and his black bib is getting more noticeable to help him attract a mate. By the end of the month tawny owls could already be sitting on eggs.

 

 

A second pressure is still the need for a sheltered roosting site to survive the long nights. So in a giant, industrial-scale glasshouse somewhere in Kent, where strawberries are grown all year round, hundreds of pied wagtails slip through the vents each night to roost together among the plants. That little bobbing, black and white bird hunting scarce insects in your garden during the day could just be one of them!

 

 Like the wagtails, many birds are still gathering in flocks to roost or find food, and are easily trapped. So it is a good opportunity to gather scientific data about their lives by collecting body measurements to gauge their health and fitness, and fitting a tiny ring with a unique number that will identify them as an individual if they are caught again, or found dead. They are then released unharmed. The pied wagtail in the picture was trapped at roost in the glasshouse, measured and ringed, then kept in a safe place overnight to be released at the greenhouses the next morning none the worse for his experience.

 

 

Enlightened arablle farmers ensure some stubble fields are left unploughed through the winter for the birds to forage in when natural resources are used up. As the populations of most of our farmland birds have declined, in some cases up to 90 per cent, in the last fifty years, some farmers are now paid extra to grow a special crop like sunflowers to leave as overwinter food for them.

 

One such farmer is Peter Hall in Marden, where huge numbers of birds are drawn to his fields for food. Flocks of more than five hundred chaffinches and bramblings (a winter visitor from Scandinavia) are common. Recent ringing sessions there, for example, have demonstrated the way in which many birds fly long distances to find food. A reed bunting trapped and ringed in West Sussex only a few days before, was recently re-trapped in Marden. This shows that bird populations will continue to decline unless there are resources for them across the landscape, not just on tiny pockets of land in a few scattered nature reserves.

 

 

So keep your eyes open on your next winter walk: who’s doing their bit for the birds around the Farleighs?

January: Looking well fed

Posted on 30th December, 2017

A winter paradox of garden birdwatching is the sight of robins and blackbirds eyeing the goodies on the bird table above them. At first sight they look as well fed as any Christmas card bird, but their rotund shape belies the the fact they are desperately trying to lay down sufficient fat to see them through the longest and coldest of winter nights. Their plumped-up feathers trap as much air as possible to insulate them during the day. But they will only survive the night by burning body fat to keep warm. A bird like a blue tit can lose up to half its bodyweight overnight just staying alive.

 

 

Their appearance may mimic portly, post-festivities humans, but to survive they still need well stocked birdtables - or berry-laden hedgerows, if there are any left un-flailed.

 

This year’s abundant garden crop of pyracantha berries has been just about stripped by the blackbirds, no doubt with the help of an occasional, locally-scarce, mistle thrush aided and abetted by wintering fieldfares and redwings. The next item on their standby list will be ivy berries. This much-maligned plant may need keeping in check, but cutting it back while it still has berries removes another lifeline for desperate birds. As one of the latest flowering plants it’s also a valuable source of nectar for late summer bees and insects, then of nourishing black berries for wintering birds.

 

 

I feed a variety a food to birds in my garden, but the one guaranteed to appeal to just about every species is my own mix of 500g of ‘value’ porridge oats with half a bar (125g) of lard stirred into it – just zap it the microwave for a few minutes first to melt the lard. It works out cheaper than most other quality bird food and is high in the important ingredient – fat.

 

Another essential for birds is access to water. Species that are mainly seed-eating can’t get sufficient dietary water from seeds alone, but all birds depend on maintaining their feathers in optimum condition to keep them warm. Even in freezing conditions bathing is part of their daily routine.

 

 

Part of the post-bathing ritual is preening the feathers; this ‘zips’ the feathers back together again. While the birds do it, they also apply a coating of oil to the feathers which they get by wiping their bill over their preen gland, a small organ in the skin on their rump. As well as helping to waterproof their plumage, the oils contains antibiotic chemicals to protect them against parasites such as feather mites. One scientific study found that male house sparrows with the largest preen glands were most successful in attracting mates, possibly because their plumage was in optimum condition, indicating they were healthier and stronger males. A seemingly insignificant activity, therefore, could have a significant life-changing impact.

 

So, as well as helping birds with additional food (in regularly cleaned feeders) to complement your untidy, but bird food-rich garden, remember to provide access to water.

 

December: Two Turtle Doves ....

Posted on 27th November, 2017

But only if you are very lucky. Nowadays, the second day of Christmas gift from the traditional song is highly unlikely to be given by anyone’s true love. Apart from the fact they spend their winters in sub-Saharan Africa, these beautiful doves have declined by 91% in the last twenty years. Their scientific name Streptopelia turtur comes from their gentle ‘turr-turr’ song. You may be lucky to hear one in the village in the summer, although I haven’t heard one here for two years now, but they can still be heard in Kent which is one of its last UK strongholds.

Click for an (almost) forgotten sound of summer

 

The area between Ashford and Marden has been designated a ‘turtle dove friendly zone’ where many farmers are catering for their special needs. They need weedy patches of bare ground, with tall, thick hedges for nesting - as explained on a recent BBC World At One broadcast  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05p32nk - something becoming increasingly hard to find in our intensively farmed and ‘tidied-up’ countryside. A delayed Christmas gift of seeing a turtle dove next summer would certainly be one worth waiting for!

 

A number of birds are included as gifts in the seasonal song, although no-one really knows for certain why. A plausible theory is that the original ‘numbers’ were chosen to represent religious symbols at a time when these were banned during The Commonwealth. The two turtle doves, for example, represent the two testaments of the bible, the six geese-a-laying is code for the six days of Creation, and so on.

 

 

The single partridge in a pear tree is the resurrected Christ lifted aloft – pear tree rhyming with ‘perdix’, the French for partridge. Sadly, the partridge in question is the Grey Partridge (known as the English partridge), yet another endangered species as a result of modern farming practices. The commoner Red-Legged (or French) Partridge is an introduced species ‘farmed‘ for shooting purposes.

 

 

 

 

 

A bird that is fortunately still very common is the wren – I doubt there is a garden anywhere in The Farleighs, or in any village from here to the northernmost outpost of the UK, that doesn’t shelter this tiny bird. You probably hear it more often than see it, as it tends to keep out of sight in a never-ending search for food, hence its scientific name Troglodytes troglodytes - the cave-dweller. It too has been the subject of a Boxing – or St Stephen’s - Day custom for centuries. No-one really knows the origin of ‘Hunting the Wren’: a pagan ritual to mark the winter solstice, or a Christian one to mark the apparent part the bird’s unusually loud song played in disclosing the hiding place of the Christian Stephen?  As a result, Stephen was allegedly stoned to death, a fate that used to befall the unfortunate wren captured as part of the ritual. Apparently the custom is still partly enacted in parts of Ireland and Wales, but with a token, not real, wren that is carried from house to house by children soliciting sweets!

The familiar Robin, of course, is probably the bird most associated with Christmas – being featured on countless Christmas cards, decorations and even a Waitrose TV advert! Many people refer to the one in their garden as ‘our‘ robin as it is there keeping them company throughout the year. But there is a strong chance that ‘our’ robin has moved to warmer parts of Europe for the winter, and its place taken by a Scandinavian bird enjoying the usually mild Farleighs weather! If we are lucky, robins (and wrens) will serenade us on our post-Christmas dinner walk around the village.

 

Finally, if you are fortunate enough to hear or see a turtle dove or grey partridge in the coming year – please let me know. It’s important for conservation bodies and landowners to know where these species are so that appropriate action can be taken to ‘bring them back from the brink’. Celebrating Christ’s birth would be so much more meaningful if, for the rest of the year, we took more care of the world He created. Happy Christmas.

November: War Birds?

Posted on 24th October, 2017

November can have the first hard weather of the winter, so be prepared for even greater numbers of woodpigeon and stock doves in surrounding fields, as thousands can descend on us to escape freezing conditions further north. Although Aristotle understood why some birds migrate, scientists are still unraveling the mysteries of how they actually do it. Navigation strategies include using the  position of the sun and stars, sensing polarised light or the earth’s magnetic field, as well as simple sight and smell (yes, some birds have a very good sense of smell!) to remember where they’ve been before.

 

But the pigeon was the first species to have its uncanny skill exploited by man. Homing pigeons were extensively used in the two World Wars and there is no doubt that the carnage could have been even worse were it not for their unerring ability to find their way back to their loft - even though this was on a lorry moving around the battlefield! - with life-saving messages. Many were awarded the Dickin Medal (the animals’ VC), including a bird called William of Orange who was credited with saving the lives of 2000 allied airborne soldiers at the battle of Arnhem in 1944, after covering the 250 miles back to England in just four and a half hours with invaluable information about the soldiers’ plight.

 

 

 

 

 

So as you walk to church on Remembrance Sunday, look for the pigeons in the fields and reflect on what might have been had their relatives’ incredible ability not been harnessed.

 

It isn’t just the cold weather that causes an influx of northern birds; a crop failure of a species’ main food has the same effect. Waxwings arrive in their thousands if their staple winter diet of berries, especially rowan, is reduced in this way. Some have already been spotted in Strood and Maidstone this year, so if you have a fine display of berries in your garden keep an eye open for these beautifully gaudy Scandinavians muscling-in on the local blackbirds devouring pyracantha and snowberries. They arrive in flocks and often announce their presence with a delightful flute-like call.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  Listen to their call here

 

  They get their name from the stiff, waxy tips of their

  feathers that resemble old-fashioned sealing wax!

 

 

 

 

 

Last month I also mentioned the possibility of coming across a Ring Ouzel (a mountain Blackbird that breeds in northern UK and Dartmoor) resting up locally during a break in its southward journey to winter in the Atlas Mountains.These two birds were photographed in a flock of eleven seen at Langdon Hole, Dover in late October.

 

October: Just passing through

Posted on 3rd October, 2017

Spring and Autumn are the times to see unusual birds in the village as they pass through on their long-haul migration to and from northern Europe and tropical Africa. A bird you may be lucky enough to see is the Wheatear.  A relative of the Robin, it was once commonly referred to as ‘the White Arse’ because of its conspicuous white rump, but Victorian sensitivities demanded it be renamed! It breeds in the north of the UK and as far north as Greenland and winters in Africa. One was recently seen in the field at the Horseshoes riding school; wheatears like to perch on a raised rock, or piles of horse manure in this case, from which they pounce on their insect prey!

 

Another possible passing visitor is the Ring Ouzel – yes, it is a bird! It's a close relative of the Blackbird that nests on high ground or mountainous terrain in the north of England and winters in the Atlas Mountains in North Africa.

 

 Small birds migrate at night, so keep your eyes open if you walk your dog first thing in the morning as the migrants are busily searching for food to top-up their fat supplies before embarking on the next leg of their journey.

 

It isn’t just the birds that winter in Africa that are on the move. Later this month will see the arrival of fieldfares and redwings, close relatives of blackbirds and thrushes, from Scandinavia. I usually hear them before I see them: fieldfares are noisy birds uttering loud ‘chack-chack’ calls as they forage in the orchards or on ploughed fields; the smaller redwings, which are like song-thrushes with an orange blush under their wings – hence the name – make a high pitched ‘see-see’ call as they fly overhead, often at night.

 

Strangely, while we play winter host to these northern thrushes, many of ‘our’ thrushes and blackbirds move south and west too, especially if we experience hard weather. So your regular garden blackbird, robin or chaffinch may be feeding in a garden in Cornwall, or even France or Spain, while their regular place in your garden is gratefully taken by birds from northern or central Europe.

September: Ticking Robins

Posted on 31st August, 2017

In September most robins will have finished their annual moult. Unlike human hair, birds’ feathers are ‘dead’ once they have emerged, and cannot grow to repair damage from sunlight or abrasion from hard surfaces. So most adults replace every feather on their body after breeding, and this year’s juveniles also moult their breast feathers to acquire the full badge of adult plumage. But this is when trouble starts in the robin community, as both males and females are territorial throughout the year. So, resplendent in their new feathers, all robins will be making the ticking sound that lets others know they are there, and the dominant birds will puff out their chests to intimidate those further down the pecking order – often dive-bombing them to drive them out of the territory.

 

 

Another bird acquiring a red face as part of its adult plumage is the goldfinch. When so much of our native wildlife is in decline, this bird is a good news story. No longer a relatively scarce garden bird, its population has more than doubled in the last twenty years and flocks, or ‘charms’ to use their collective noun, can be heard almost anywhere there are trees – in towns, in the countryside or in gardens. The reasons for the increase are likely to be a combination of warmer winters, more ‘bird friendly’ land management that leaves weedy strips along farm field edges and, especially, garden bird feeders. Once nyger seed (from a tropical thistle) was introduced to gardens it attracted the goldfinches whose needle-pointed beaks are adapted to extracting the tiny seeds from thistles and teasels. The birds then discovered sunflower hearts, since when there has been no stopping them. This year has been a good nesting season for them too, enabling them to produce two or three broods. A nestling from a garden nest was brought in – alive - by a neighbour’s cat on August 18th, evidence that goldfinches and other species are benefiting from our changing climate. This is supported by findings from the British Trust for Ornithology’s Nest Record Scheme, which has data on nesting dates and productivity dating back to 1937!  With this secure scientific base, DEFRA recently extended the ban on farmland hedge-cutting by a month, to the end of August, to avoid destruction of active nests.

 

Sadly, I have also seen two birds recently in my garden showing signs of the disease trichomonosis (caused by a parasite that infects their throat so that they can’t eat).

 

 

So I will be stopping feeding for a couple of weeks to allow the birds to disperse – there is plenty of food available in the hedgerows at the moment – and giving the birdfeeders and bird baths a thorough clean and sterilisation as the disease is passed on through their saliva and faeces.

 

Other garden wildlife, such as frogs, hedgehogs and, even, grass snakes, are vulnerable to a range of diseases too. You can find out more about these from the Garden Wildlife Health initiative based at London Zoo. If you report sightings of sick animals (or are prepared to send in a dead animal for postmortem examination) it helps track animal diseases which can infect domestic animals and humans too.

Where have all the birds gone?

Posted on 27th July, 2017

August usually prompts the question “Where have all the garden birds gone?”. To which the answer is usually “into the fields and hedgerows where there is now more food available”. Our house sparrows are no exception. A few weeks ago there were daily family parties of adults feeding their newly fledged youngsters from the millet seed specially provided for them in our garden; now they are only coming in small groups, and I expect visits to get less and less frequent throughout August and September as they take advantage of the natural harvest. They’ll be back in October, especially if it is cold and wet, to prepare for the winter battle against the elements. Along with most other small garden birds, less than half of this year’s young will survive to breed next spring, and a good proportion of adults will also perish if it is a hard winter.

 

 

For the past six years I have been taking part in a national project to monitor the survival of adult house sparrows. It is being run by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and is helping our understanding of why sparrow numbers have declined so drastically in the last thirty years. Fortunately it is starting to provide some answers that are leading to ideas for how we can them. The project is based at Frith Farm and the Horseshoes Riding School in Dean Street, and in Vicarage Lane, and is one of eighteen across the country. Sparrows are fitted with coloured leg-rings so they can be tracked throughout the year. Data so far show their survival compares less well in East Farleigh (and the South-East generally) with that of those nationally. Results for ‘our’ sparrows show that only 39% of adult males and 36% of adult females survive each year. This compares with 44% and 42% elsewhere. Although sparrows don’t normally travel far from the colony they were born in, it would be interesting to know if any have been tempted by the promise of a better life in West Farleigh! If you see any of them, or would like more information, please do let me know - (01622 726164 / lepiaf@hotmail.co.uk).

 

It is no coincidence that predators also time their breeding so that there are plenty of young, naive birds around when they need extra food to feed own hungry youngsters. So now is a good time to see sparrowhawks, kestrels, buzzards and owls – all fairly common now in The Farleighs – out hunting for birds, rodents, rabbits and earthworms (the latter a favourite of buzzards and little owls). Of course, the predators’ young, once fledged, are naive too and have to learn how to hunt through trial and error. So you may be lucky enough to see a young, perplexed-looking sparrowhawk sitting near your garden feeders wondering why the other birds all disappeared when he arrived. Like this one, photographed in July in a Dean Street garden eyeing-up the sparrow chick poking its head out of the nest box!  Enjoy them while you can.