By Roger Draycott, GWCT Head of Advisory
The GWCT Advisory team has been busy over the last week helping run farmland bird ID days ahead of the Big Farmland Bird Count which starts on 3 February. These days are always popular and I look forward to being involved every year.
This year has been extra special as we have just run the first overseas ID day in Austria. The event took place at Count Maximilian Hardegg’s Seefeld Estate in Austria. This is not in the Austrian Alps as one might expect, but in the lowlands in the north of the country where there is fertile arable land.
Seefeld is a large arable estate growing the same range of arable crops that we grow over here (but with the odd field of soya bean too!). They also have the same suite of farmland bird species, so subject to a few minor tweaks and some excellent translation into German by the Estate team, I was able to use the same presentation as in the UK!
The estate is passionate about wildlife conservation and provide a lot of good habitat for farmland birds. Especially impressive are the numbers of wild pheasants, yellowhammers and tree sparrows. Like in the UK, late winter feeding is considered vital to help these birds through the ‘hungry gap’.
When we went for a walk with the group to spot some birds in the fields we were lucky to see flocks of over 100 tree sparrows as well as large mixed flocks of finches feeding on the seed mixes broadcast on the ground and in feeders.
All the birds were hungry, including fieldfares getting a sugar-fix while busy feeding away on the sugar beet tops – not surprising considering it was -7 degrees C and with a strong wind pulling the temperature down further. Despite the cold there was a good turn out (including a TV crew!) and every farmer promised to do the count and to try and persuade a neighbour to do the same.
It seems like Austrian farmers are just as keen to brush up on their bird ID skills and learn a bit more about the birds on their farms and what they can do to help them as farmers in the UK.
2017 Big Farmland Bird Count - starts Friday 3rd February
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