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Autumn 2007


Dawn over Witham Mouth

Ploughed fields are always associated with autumn but not for a long while have we seen so much land go under the plough. The reason for this is that the soaring price of cereals and oilseeds, but especially wheat has proven an irresistible temptation to our farmers. Coupled with the removal of set-aside grants and Tony Blairs' last great act of charity when the money reserved for HLS (Higher Level Scheme) environmental schemes in the UK was re-designated as aid for French farmers; the outlook for wildlife on farmland is pretty grim. I know of at least one farm where flower rich grassland margins established over ten years ago under the auspices of the Countryside Stewardship Scheme have been ploughed out to make way for more wheat.

After a long wet summer we are all enjoying a dry and open autumn with plenty of sunshine. However many of our winter visitors have already arrived, two Redwings in my garden on the morning of 27th September were the earliest I have recorded and were part of a fall of nocturnal migrants driven by northerly winds.

Grey Phalarope

The northerly winds also produced some of the best sea watching off the Lincolnshire coast for many years with a variety of skuas and shearwaters, including many Sooty Shearwaters and the elusive Sabine's Gull, among the prizes available to those willing to spend eye watering hours peering through a telescope in to the teeth of a north wind. Unfortunately a family tragedy prevented me from participating in much of this bonanza but a boat trip out of Boston in to the Wash on the 7th October was highly productive. A huge selection of seabirds was seen including Black and Red Throated Divers, Velvet Scoter, Gannets, Razorbills, Guillemots, three types of Skuas and delightful Little Gulls.

Little Gull
But the top bird was undoubtedly the Grey Phalarope observed in the middle of The Wash. This dainty wader, which breeds in the high arctic, spends most of its life on the ocean, where it feeds on crustaceans and other small prey items on the surface of the waves. As this was the first one I had ever seen I was especially thrilled not only to see it but to photograph it too.

We also saw many Common Seals and visited the only Grey Seal colony in the Wash. I promised myself I would not take any more pictures of seals, but I soon became captivated by their charms and could not stop clicking away!

Great Skua or Bonxie
Just to prove you don't have to go far to see wildlife I added yet another bird of prey to my already impressive garden list last week. My attention was drawn to some extraordinary calls emanating from a mixed flock of Jackdaws and Rooks which I could hear even above the lawn mower. I looked up to see a bird shaped exactly like a Sparrowhawk but dwarfing the mobbing Rooks and twice the size of the Jackdaws. Even before I rushed inside for my binoculars I realised I was looking at a Goshawk. The corvids mobbing it made strangulated calls of hatred; entirely different to the half hearted way they mob the local Buzzards, Kestrels and Sparrowhawks.


Rippingales' position on the edge of the limestone ridge abutting the fens seems to make it attractive to birds of prey. The Goshawk sighting comes a close second to the day we watched Hobby, then a Buzzard and finally a Red Kite all soaring over our garden earlier this year.

The garden also supports a good mammal population. The Muntjac I mentioned in an earlier "Country Eye" has become a frequent visitor and we have a thriving population of Bank Voles. Hedgehogs also frequently seek scraps underneath the bird feeders and other frequent visitors to the garden this summer and early autumn have included Pippistrelle Bats, House Mice and Grey Squirrels.

A tramp around Rippingale and Dunsby Fens last weekend on a gloriously sunny morning, produced some good autumnal birds. For the first hour of the day a distinct westward passage of birds was evident. Starlings flew over in squadrons of 50 to 100 but amounting to more than 1500 in total. More disparate but equally obvious was a constant trickle of Skylarks and Meadow Pipits. Every hedge seemed to hold squeeking diminutive Goldrests but a female Blackcap was surely a bird planning to over-winter rather than a late outgoing migrant. A mixed flock of Thrushes consisted of about 60 chattering Fieldfares, 20 Mistle Thrushes, 4 Redwings and a handful of jumpy Blackbirds. The whistling calls of around 1000 Golden Plovers feeding on a freshly cultivated field with about 250 Lapwings completed a wintry avifauna despite the glorious sunshine. Yet a few vestiges of summer held on; a few Migrant Hawkers a Common Darter and even an immense Brown Hawker were "operational" along the Carr Dyke and a Small Tortoiseshell sought out nectar from one of the last remaining Field Scabious to flower. As I returned home along the beck a Kingfisher flew up in front of me in a radiant flash of blue and red putting the seal on a truly magical morning.

Ian Misselbrook
October 2007.


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