People need homes. But it was hard not to feel grim about the sight (and sound) of housebuilders’ diggers eating up more of the farmland I think of as the skylark fields.
The people who will live in these new houses will have magnificent birdsong to accompany their lives, if they open the windows and listen. Skylarks live in the surrounding fields, dozens of them, protecting nests with their astonishing flight songs, hurtling skyward out of here:
And out of here.
These are the views to the left of the path. To the right, metal fencing around the building site comes up to the path for a short distance, and behind that piles of excavated earth, a new road (or maybe it will be a pavement), a temporary car park, cars, hard hats, a generator whirring, heavy machinery rumbling and clanking, distant shouting.
A corn bunting was sitting on the fence and scratching away at a phrase every few seconds. I know this now, but I didn’t then. I only knew it sounded like a new bird to me. I took a couple of poor photos, and recorded a short clip on the phone, and once home asked Al what it was. He knows about these matters that matter, and told me what it was. I looked this bird up.
A corn bunting “is most usually seen perched on a wire or post,” the RSPB said. It seems a metal fence around a building site will do just as well. It flew across the path after a minute or so and repeated its call from the field edge, where the cow parsley is now going over but other flowers are taking its place – white campion, mallow, poppies, hedge mustard, and others I can’t name. The skylarks rose and fell and sang all the while in the background, deeper into the field. Here’s a good recording of a corn bunting from Xeno-Canto, better than mine.
The corn bunting is on the Red list after a “dramatic population decline”, the RSPB says. The UK population fell by a horrific 89% between 1970 and 2003. “This is mainly because fewer seed and insect food sources are available to them on farmland,” the society adds. Corn buntings are also a late-nesting species, and so vulnerable to nest destruction during harvesting.
Breeding success relates directly to the availability of insect food. Corn buntings take insects from crops, set-aside, grassland and field margins. The RSPB has advice for farmers on land management for corn buntings and says on its website that there are 11,000 breeding territories in the UK.
A mile or so further on, the paved path runs out at the farmhouse and turns into a foot-worn track across the common land where horses and cows graze and jackdaws, crows and starlings gather in large groups.
A buzzard was circling in the far distance over the forested hillside; a woodpecker was drumming up there too, somewhere. Half a dozen swallows made regular forays out from the barns behind me and over the common before swooping back to their nests. I’m glad they’re back again. I do wonder whether the corn bunting will hang about though.