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Burton Nature diary

Although the village is only a mile from the city boundary, the  parish has a wide range of habitats that attracts and abundance of wildlife.  We have the parkland associated with the old Burton Hall,  several small woods  created  in the 19th century to provide cover for  game  birds and for foxhunting,  grassland  that supports one of the last remaining dairy herds north of the city  and arable fields that are managed in in environmentally friendly manner to provide  a highway along the field margins for birds and small mammals.    There is an abundance of water features with the Fossdyke canal forming the western boundary of the parish, the catchwater drain created in 1805 to reduce the risk of flooding in Lincoln and the old gravel pits, once a  Lincolnshire Trust nature reserve,  that provide a diverse habitat  for  flora and fauna.


On my daily walks there is always something different to see or hear depending upon the seasons.  Birds there are in abundance, sometimes a fox or a deer  will be seen crossing a field or following the line of a hedge, occasionally a stoat or weasel will playfully leap across the footpath.  Butterflies, moths and dragonflies  add to the summer interest   while an overturned log or stone will reveal  another world of  beetles and creepy crawlies.  The eerie sound of a Tawny Owl hunting in Burton Park, often heard but seldom seen,  is an indication that life in the wild is not just a daytime occupation. Sometimes it is an absence which makes us realise that the world is fragile and is changing around us;  not for the better.  For 5 years I have not heard a cuckoo except in transit and the lapwings which had established a breeding colony in the fields below the ridge have not returned this year,  and where now are the mad march hares?


As a child I was fascinated by nature  and with like minded friends, we had the freedom to  roam the highways and byways of Dorset without restriction.  Sustained with a bottle of Tizer and a loaf of newly baked bread from Ma Bishop’s  shop, we could picnic in the woods, fish for tiddlers in the river and be home by dusk without fear of  being chastised by an over worried parent.  Then there were no bogy men, no mobile phones (a home phone was an unaffordable luxury) no risk assessments, but above all no speeding cars to knock you off your bike.   In those days I used to keep a nature diary of what I had seen and what I had collected  -  perhaps this page with its observations is a return to those halcyon days.

Spring 2010

 Observations - March


Rooks  - March 1st - The rooks in the Lime trees opposite have started to build their nests. Some days before around the full moon, there was a a big discussion in the tree tops (a gathering of rooks is called a parliament) and the decision was made that weather, light and conditions were now suitable for nest building.  Within a couple of day there were upwards of 30 pairs collecting new twigs from nearby trees.  My walnut is a favourite source, and with much bending and twisting they can break off quite large twigs that are then delivered to the nesting site.  With an awkward load, the aerodynamics are a bit precarious and often a bird requires  extra yards of clear airspace to gain sufficient height.   There is much competition for the best  sites so building is done by both male and female birds in relays with one bird always remaining to guard the nest and deter pilferers. On windy days nest building is suspended and pairs of rooks may be seen  in close formation just floating on the wind  close to the nesting site. Sometimes they are joined by a third smaller family member,  probably a youngster from last year’s brood who has yet to find a mate.








Muntjak deer - Spotted crossing Burton Park into the woods behind Mexborough house.  This little deer is very secretive but  one has been resident in the woodlands around Burton village for several years


Foxes -  2 or 3 foxes have been resident in the fields around Burton over the winter months.  You can often smell the marking scent along Woodcote lane One large dog fox  may have taken a liking to the chickens at Birch Holt farm where 5  disappeared over a couple of days in January!


Tawny Owl  - Most nights can be heard hunting in Burton park.  Probably now nesting somewhere in Burton park where  a pair has been resident for many years.


Long Tailed Tits - Seen most days perched on the  bird feeder - seemed to have survived the cold winter unlike the wren whose numbers seemed to have decreased.


Tree Sparrows - A welcome return to the garden but I cannot remember when I last saw a good old fashioned house sparrow in Burton.


Woodpeckers - both Green and Spotted woodpeckers  seen and heard drumming in woodland


Meadow Pippets -  14th March 4 meadow pippets seen  rising up over an unploughed arable field below the ridge.  Unusual sighting  at this time of the year in this area and can easily be confused with skylarks.


Missing in Action? - Lapwings.   For the past 5 years a breeding colony of lapwings  was established  on  grassland  managed under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme. The birds would arrive in February to establish their territory for the breeding season, aggressively mobbing  intruders such as rooks and crows. Last year numbers dwindled to a couple of pairs  but this year winter has taken its toll  and not a single bird has turned up.



Frog spawn 21st March - The first blob of frog spawn observed in a pond on land managed under the Countryside Stewardship scheme.  The ponds were dug about 5 years ago and this is the first time I have seen spawn in one of the pools which have been left to colonised naturally.  Visited the pond  on 22nd and  overnight more eggs had been laid - possibly by other frogs.  Across the other side of the pond  I spotted a toad in the weeds and a hint of a fish darting out into deeper waters - not good news for the emerging tadpoles!




Red-tailed bumblebee  bombus lapidarius - The warm weather has brought a number of insects out of hibernation.  This Queen red-tailed bumblebee was photographed gathering pollen on a primrose in the garden on 21st March



Have you an observation which you would like to include in the monthly bulletin? Email your observation to webmaster@burton-by-lincoln.info


Help in identifying  birds, bugs, beetles, butterflies and moths and a whole lot more?  Then visit  the web site operated by Horncastle naturalist  Alan Dale,  “A Nature Observer’s scrapbook”      www.bugsandweeds.co.uk

Observations April


Dairy Cows - 7th April  Always a sight to gladden the eyes when the dairy cows are first turned out  onto the grass pasture after a long winter.   The dry cows (they will calf in the summer) were driven in style from the sheds where they had spent the winter months and let loose in the Church field by Woodcote lane.   Much skipping  for joy for their new found freedom.  However,  someone left a field gate open and they all found there way back to the dairy in time for milking!


Lapwings  - Good News  At the end of March several birds were spotted on set-aside land and they seem to be establishing their territory driving away unwelcome visitors, particularly  rooks and crows.  


Frogspawn - 7th April - The frogspawn  has hatched in the pond and there is a black mass of tadpoles feeding off the remaining jelly.  Nearby in the same pond there  are several strings of toad spawn.  The bad news is that  the pond also contains 2 fish, probably pike, about 6 inches long   who are no doubt  looking for a good meal.  How did they get there?  The pond is 100m from the catchwater drain so perhaps a duck carried the eggs there on their feet


The Rookery - The rooks are now well established and there are now at least 36 nests in various stages of construction. All very noisy at first light and in the evening when the birds seem to have a political debate about the forthcoming election. Some latecomers are still adding a few twigs to their nests before  the tree canopy closes  a veil around the rookery for the duration of the summer.


Swallows  20th April.  The first swallows observed flying  low over the church field.  Few in number at the moment but last year seemed to be a good breeding season so hopes that they will return again to the nest in the house eves.


Bumble bees.   Many  large bumblebees coming out of hibernation and enjoying the  warm spring weather. Buff and orange tailed bees, carder bees and one which I have struggled to identify.  A black bee, rapid flight which converts  instantly into a hover.   Identified by the Bumblebee Trust as a female hairy footed flower bee (Anthopora Plumipipes)  - a common species at this time of the year which makes its nest in old masonry.