Monday, 23 November 2009

Corn Bunting - A Description Species in Northumberland?

It would appear that my title is perhaps exactly where we are at in relation to Corn Bunting Miliaria calandra in my home county. 2009 has seen a single bird reported which hung around north of Linden Hall and presumably the same bird at Bywell in August. Even that individual was in the middle of an identity crisis singing like a Yellowhammer at times. You look at species requiring a description and take for example Balearic Shearwater and Sabine's Gull both of which have had in excess of ten individuals recorded this year and wonder why Corn Bunting shouldn't be amongst them.
Now for those of you wizened & grey tapping away with a single finger reading this it might seem ludicrous to think you couldn't identify a Corn Bunting but consider for a second what if you were sixteen again. OK consider if you were sixteen again and you managed to get out of bed. Now you don't have a car, foreign holidays are about to become a thing of the past due to increased Fuel Levys where are you going to connect with Corn Bunting?
Durham is the obvious answer and it would be great to think the mini-recovery that has happened there can continue and spread but that is going to take a great deal of hard work and changes in a number of farming practices which may or may not happen.
Obviously any change is the responsibility of the CRC but you have to wonder how much longer they can resist adding it to at least the list requiring brief notes. A sad reflection on our times.
The saddest thing for me is that it's happened on our watch and no one seems to have lifted a finger to try and prevent it from reaching this point (I'll stand corrected if I have missed an initiative). Look at the literature and you can chart the decline from Northumberland's Birds (1983) ' a well represented breeding resident' via Northumbrian Birds (2001) ' uncommon and declining breeding resident' to the situation today outlined above. Corn Bunting may still be abundant elsewhere in Europe particularly in the East in countries such as Romania and Croatia but for me the loss of it as a county bird is without parallel, I cannot think of another breeding species that has undergone such a catastrophic decline in my lifetime and summer will never be the same without those jangling keys.

Galloway, B. & Meek, E.R (1978-83) Northumberland's Birds. Trans, Nat History Soc. Northumbria 44 (1-3): 1-195
Kerr, I. (2001) Northumbrian Birds. NTBC 1-184


Stewart said...

Me and JWR had 18 singing males at Boulmer in the mid 90's between Seaton Point and Boulmer Village a very small area in one morning walk...As a kid they were every where around Pegswood. One singer between every telegraph pole! We used to find their nests at Pegswood Burn ( Bothal Park behind the Pit Heap) and along the road to Bothal village...Sob :(

Newton Stringer said...

Sadly I suspect the Northumberland CB population may be heading beyond the point of recovery. Perhaps there are still birds lurking out there off the beaten track, but maybe not, be interesting to see if the atlas work throws up any new sites.

The 3 farms in Northumberland where CB were confirmed during 07/08 were targeted for work (along with their neighbouring farms). These now have Higher Level Stewardship happening on them including some big unharvested cereal crop mixes (amongst other things) especially developed for CB. Too little and (probably) too late some would say... but at least it is happening, and the management employed will certainly greatly benefit a whole range of other farmland birds on the sites.

In Durham I am not aware of any CB recovery, my understanding was that there were around 100 odd pairs in 2000 and this number has dropped to around 35 pairs in 2008 so the situation is also critical there, but not beyond the point of no return just yet.

In Durham 26 farms with CB present have been identified from 2008/09 data. 2 of the “core” farms were targeted for CB management under agri-environment during 2009. The remainder are all being targeted during 2010, so a big positive move on the part of Durham Bird Club, Natural England and RSPB who worked in partnership to pull this work together....

I walked through one of the first unharvested cereal crops developed specifically for CBs in Co Durham the other day and kicked out 23 CBs ! There was also over 100 each of tree sparrows and yellowhammers and 40+ reed buntings.

We know from research that these “unharvested crops” can deliver for CB, as well as other seed eating passerines, and over the next couple of years I hope we'll see these crops appearing on a good proportion of the remaining CB sites in Durham.

Alan Tilmouth said...

Stringer, I hoped you'd add the benefit of your experience on the subject. Whilst it probably is too little too late I agree there will be other benefits and with birds remaining as close as Durham who knows. Regarding Durham, my selective memory kicked in as I read that there were 'encouraging signs' in the BiD 2008 but having re-checked I can see that you are quite correct that despite good size winter flocks in two areas the breeding population was estimated at 35-45 singing males. Given a free hand what more could be done in Northumberland?