Sunday, 15 July 2012

Wiltshire Born and Bred

The truck roared along the country roads, weaving its way through fields of greenish yellow wheat, sandy yellow barley and deep green pastures. Heading off road and onto a muddy track  the truck effortlessly wove its way along the field margins, squelching through muddy pools. Poppy's added a splash of brilliant colour along these edges, brightening the dreary morning cast by leaden skies. Swifts swept low over the wheat, skimming the heads with the tips of their  pointed wings, skylarks fluttered up from their nests, hidden in the crops and the calls of yellow wagtail and corn bunting rang out. 

Ahead, farm buildings stand stark grey and brown against the rolling greens, browns and yellows of the fields. Here small wooden boxes line up along the side of the buildings, in the small woods nearby and on fence posts. They provide perfect nesting space for a rather special farmland bird, the tree sparrow. 

A room with a view...
Tree sparrow box overlooking the Wiltshire countryside

Opening the lid reveals a dome of grass and feathers, a small opening at the top reveals a cup within which the chicks are nestled. With a stubby little face and chocolate brown feathers starting to poke through, the chicks are some of the cutest ugly babies I have seen. Once ringed, the chicks are 'posted' back through the nest hole where they disappear into the comforting darkness.

Tree sparrow chick

A little older and almost ready to leave the nest

The long term project here aims to understand their breeding ecology. Year after year the boxes are checked, the contents recorded and the chicks ringed. It is a mammoth task, but well worth it with the data generated being used to answer numerous questions about this declining species. A huge thank you to the maestro running this project and collecting this data, Mr Matt Prior! 

Lee and Matt Prior in classic photo pose!

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