Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Spring awakening...

It's been several weeks since I last posted, our wonderful Internet provider left us without any broadband for a few weeks and there has been lots to do at this very busy time of year.

The dairy herd are still kept indoors around the clock which means a lot of work for those tasked with keeping them content. On the farm January and February are very much times for keeping your head down, working away, often in darkness and sometimes in snow. By March it's (usually) safe to at least take stock. We have a lot less silage, and a lot more muck but it will be a few weeks more before the ground is dry enough, and the grass recovered enough for the cows to go out- but there are lots and lots of signs that Spring is coming.

No one is more ready for those sunnier days than the cows themselves, for them 'turning out day' cannot come soon enough-it only takes a sunny day and they will gather at the side gates of their shed in anticipation. On such days its not wise to spend too long around the cowshed as the cattle tend to assume you're readying the gates for 'turning out' and can become unduly excited and stressed. And of course there are still a few cold nights and wet days when they're more than happy to be indoors.

Whilst the cows are perhaps picking up on the temperature, day length, and the scent of new grass, for us there are other signs of the impending Spring- its arrival to this quiet corner of Derbyshire has played out as follows:

  • 16th February: Black-headed Gull in full Summer plumage over the farm
  • 20th February: Skylark singing overhead
  • 21st February: Birth of 2012's first calf
After this we had a small Wintery interlude (winterlude?) before more developments:
  • 26th February: Oystercatcher heard calling
  • 27th February: Frogs in the ditches & a Curlew heard calling
  • 28th February: Baby rabbits emerged from warrens
  • 29th February: First Common Newts & Common Pipistrelle, large flocks of Fieldfare gathering and passing over.
  • 1st March: Birth of the second calf of 2012, Seven-spot ladybirds & Bumble Bees emerged, 6 Skylarks
  • 6th March: Great Crested Grebe courtship seen at nearby reservoir.
  • 7th March: first frogspawn
  • 9th March: Celandine flowers
  • 11th March: Small Tortoiseshell & Red Admiral butterflies on the wing
  • 12th March: Dandelion flowers & Mining Bees

It can only be a matter of days before the first Chiffchaff is heard or weeks before our Swallows return.

All this time spent offline and the seasonal optimism have allowed me to get three little projects underway. They're all slightly nerdy and will be very much ongoing- but I will keep you updated when/if they prove interesting.

Bird of Prey Monitoring:

I think birds of prey are a good gauge of the health of an eco-system, sitting (somewhat precariously) at the top of a food chain means when the whole thing collapses they have the furthest to fall and the longest climb back to recovery.

The farm attracts a decent number of bird of prey species, though the populations of some of our species appear to be at something of a turning point. Kestrel & Little Owl sightings seem to be fewer, while the Buzzard population seems to go from strength to strength, Sparrowhawks appear to also be more frequently spotted, though this could be due to the male that is living up to his name and hunting the Sparrows in the garden.

Hopefully by recording, rather than just 'noticing' I will be better placed to see how our birds of prey are doing, and as a result understand the effects our farming practices are having on prey species populations and nest site availability.

  • In the mean time if you're keen to prevent birds of prey from deliberate harm and would like to see the introduction of the offence of vicarious liability for raptor persecution in England you can do so by signing the petition here

Brown Hare Monitoring:

Anyone who has read my blog before may well know that much as I am a bird lover, I am also extremely fond of this brilliant mammal, what's more I am interested to know how and why our farming methods (seem to) benefit this species.

This will follow a similar pattern to the recording of birds of prey in that it will hopefully provide more information as time goes by- and I will bore you with my 'data' at some point in the future.

  • If you want want to record the mammals you see please submit your sightings to The Mammal Society and help them build up a picture of how our mammals are doing across the UK. Submit your sightings here

Calving blogs:

As a dairy farm the story of why some of our birds have disappeared and others prospered is inextricably tied up with the management of our land, the management of our dairy herd and ultimately the pressures on the industry.

I think it's really important to understand what farmers do and the reasoning behind the decisions they make and I have often wondered how to communicate this, it's not about sympathy, or blame or tales of woe (well, not totally) but about openness and maybe education.

With the arrival of our first calves of the year, it seemed obvious, nothing tells the story of a dairy farm better than the cows themselves, so expect updates on what's happening in the herd and (hopefully) what becomes of this years calves as they grow. You may find it interesting and educational, you may find it very dull and wish I'd stop blogging- but either way it will make a change from my endless bird sightings.

  • No links for this one, but a nice picture of 2012's first calf, a Friesian heifer. I had a few name suggestions on Twitter, and non seemed more apt than Tweetie- more on her soon...


    1. First time here. You have observed them so minutely. In the process we learn a lot and respect nature.

      1. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. I think it's great to notice nature but there's a lot to be learned from recording it too