THE COUNTRYFILE PRESENTER GOES BEHIND THE SCENES ON HIS SHOWS AND FAMILY FARM HELLO HOOPOE AND GOODBYE MR P
The day the hoopoe landed.
As spring finally creeps into action up north, we welcomed a strange and exotic visitor – a hoopoe – who dropped by while migrating north to Europe from Africa. It must have overshot its flight path due to bad weather and ended up on the farm. I rang up the RSPB HQ and they, too, were taken aback.
There are only about 100 sightings per year, mostly along the south coast, so it was a rare treat that it chose to rest with us in Durham. Hoopoes are listed as a Schedule 1 species on the Wildlife and Countryside Act, which gives them full protection. It was similar in size to a woodpecker or magpie and, as it flew, it showed off its magnificent wings of bold black and white zebra stripes, with a brilliant Mohican that relaxed over its head when it landed. Feeding on grubs, insects and small frogs, it likes short grassland to forage on. The farm has plenty of that as growth is almost non-existent still due to the cold and wet.
TREE SPARROW RISE AND PEACOCK FALL
One of our bird success stories continues to be the increase of tree sparrows, which from 1970-2008 had suffered a severe decline, estimated at 93% nationally. Recent Breeding Bird Survey data is encouraging, suggesting that numbers may have started to increase, as we’ve seen on the farm.
Sadly one casualty of this year’s bitter weather was our majestic peacock, Mr P. He arrived years ago, waddling up the field with his mother as a chick, and spent his first summer mooching about the woods and hayshed with her.
After losing his mum to a fox attack, Mr P decided his best form of defence was to stay close to the farm house. He always greeted visitors and the postman and often ate the cat’s dinner as she watched. He liked nothing better than looking at his own reflection and drying his tail feathers after a rain storm by sitting on the truck roof with his tail dangling over the edge. He survived over 16 winters with us, roosting in the oak tree in the garden next to the stables, but finally succumbed to the elements. All the family has his legacy of a full set of his beautiful tail feathers at home (which dropped every year after the mating season). We will all miss him.
One bird I’ve loved since childhood is the barn owl. Recently, I was doing a photo shoot with one from a falconry centre. While I was there, Mum sent me a photo of our resident barn owl flying down the track. We’d been worried that the weeks of snow meant it would have had little food to survive, so it was a real spring celebration to see him back on his usual hunting spot, gliding magnificently down our track.
“It had magnificent wings of bold black and white zebra stripes, with a brilliant Mohican”
BELOW Exotic hoopoes are occasionally sighted in the UK when they overshoot their migration from Africa to Europe