Wildlife during the Pandemic

Blog post by Gert Corfield
It’s been a difficult year for reasons that need no explanation! Here’s a brief review (and it’s brief because of the limitations in getting to the farm in spring!) of the wildlife activities on the farm.
Before the lockdown, a number of nest boxes were installed in February. Barn Owl Boxes, boxes to encourage Blue and Great Tits, Robins and one amongst the climbers to the main farmhouse in the hope a Spotted Flycatcher might take residence. Monitoring these on my part never materialised as in March all travel, other than an hours or so walk from home, was forbidden.
It wasn’t until mid May when this relaxed somewhat that I ventured to the farm in anticipation of what was about. Yellowhammer was in song and Warblers had returned with good numbers of Common and Lesser Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, Blackcap and a couple of Willow Warbler. The Swift had returned, but I missed Cuckoo although Jo had confirmed hearing it earlier in the Spring.
Black Cap
Visits were infrequent as we all, I think, started to find our feet again and were hesitant to venture too far.
The summer passed and it wasn’t until late summer when the lock down eased significantly that I made more visits. Deploying the moth trap over a few nights brought incredible results with over 60 species in one night. 8 Elephant hawk-moths were around the trap one morning. The spectacular Oak Eggar moth was a first and Gold Spot and Ruby Tiger moths were in numbers I could only dream of in my garden at home! One one morning I had to ask a friend for help in recording the numerous moths we uncovered when opening the trap! Naturally all were released without harm.
A few superb Mother Shipton Moths were flying during the day and I managed to photograph one individual showing it’s wing pattern from which it gets its name as it resembles Old Mother Shipton, a 16th century Yorkshire witch!

 The Mother Shipton Moth

Oak Eggar (left) and Canary Shouldered Thorn
Tray full of moths
 Poplar Hawk-Moth
On the Butterfly front it was a particularly good year for the small Tortoiseshell and Meadow Browns, Ringlet and the ‘Whites’ were abundant thanks to a good spring no doubt. On one visit mid July I was taken aback by two Silver Washed Fritillaries feeding on bramble flowers. A new Butterfly for the farm!
Silver Washed Fritillary
A late August visit during which a Butterfly walk would normally have been held to find the rare Brown Hairstreak, I found a total of eight individuals displaying over the usual ‘master tree’ and another Ash tree close by.

Brown Hairstreak ‘Master Tree’

More recently, I have been carrying out bird counts in an effort to keep more consistent records of species and numbers on the farm, principally to compare with surveys when I first started surveys over 10 years ago.
Redwings and Fieldfare have now arrived in force and very recently a new addition to the farm bird list – a Hawfinch! Flying over with it’s distinctive call I got a good look at it – undoubtedly a bird passing through. The farm bird list now stands at 86 species. Hopefully more consistent surveying and the ability now to visit more freely (as at the time of writing!) will help to discover further species. For example, whilst Whinchat has been seen a few times now, I have never seen Stonechat on the farm which I have no doubt passes through on passage.
With winter approaching, Woodcock will arrive, the winter thrushes strip berries and clear fallen fruit and maybe the odd Brambling but whatever shows itself let’s hope we continue to be able to get out whilst we can.
Photos -Gert Corfield