Posing partridges and other farmland birds

Farmland, Marshfield

Last week I got the chance to spend an evening listening for quail and spotting some other farmland birds near Marshfield, in Gloucestershire. This area is a hotspot for birds such as quail, corn buntings and other traditional farmland species which are sadly becoming much less familiar sights elsewhere.

Thankfully, these birds appear to be doing well at Marshfield, and before we had even left the car we could hear the characteristic “key-jangling” song of a corn bunting, a sound which became an almost constant backdrop to the evening. Within just one small patch of field we were then treated to yellowhammers, skylarks, more corn buntings, and the main species we had come to spot, the elusive quail. Although virtually impossible to get a glimpse of, these small birds were easy to hear calling close by with their unmistakable “wet-my-lips” call.

Field margin, Marshfield Poppy, Marshfield

The hedgerows were also full of whitethroats, greenfinches, goldfinches, linnets, house sparrows and other small birds, and the plethora of insects attracted by all the wild flowers in the field margins were a clear visual reminder of one of the reasons farmland birds are doing ok in this part of the countryside – these insects are vital food for their chicks. Good news in particular for species such as the corn bunting, which has declined by an alarming 88% in recent decades.

Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella), Marshfield
Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella), Marshfield

Leaving the field and driving on along country lanes, we also spotted swallows taking advantage of the insect feast, and on stopping a short way away to watch another corn bunting, we were treated to a sedge warbler feeding in a field – an unusual place to see this species! Then a more unusual-looking bird in the same field turned out to be my first ever whinchat – both species could well have been passing through and been brought down by earlier heavy rain.

It was a beautifully peaceful evening after a busy day at work, especially with the sight of a rainbow arcing over the fields. However, the highlight of the evening turned up next – glancing away from the whinchat I was suddenly surprised by the sight of a red-legged partridge, sat in full view right in front of the car! Apparently unaware of us, the partridge and its mate provided some amazing views (and photo opportunities!) for several minutes – it’s only really close up that you can fully appreciate just how colourful these birds are. It even obligingly sat on a wall next to the car to allow a few more photos – fantastic!

Red-legged partridge (Alectoris rufa), Marshfield
Red-legged partridge (Alectoris rufa)
Red-legged partridge (Alectoris rufa)
Red-legged patridge (Photo: Ed Drewitt)
Red-legged partridge peering through grass
Even when a bird's sitting right next to you on a wall, there are bound to be leaves and grass in the way...

It was great to get the change to see this range of birds which are so hard to spot anywhere else – sad to know that they’re in decline, but good to know that at least in places like Marshfield the farmers must be doing something ‘right’ to allow the birds to cling on.

Adult and juveniles startlings (Sturnus vulgaris) on wires
Adult and juvenile starlings lining up on overhead wires

You can read more about the decline of farmland birds in this Birds of Britain article.

A short clip with (if you turn it up loud enough!) corn bunting and quail song:

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