MATT BAKER

THE COUN­TRY­FILE PRE­SEN­TER GOES BE­HIND THE SCENES ON HIS SHOWS AND FAM­ILY FARM HELLO HOOPOE AND GOOD­BYE MR P

Countryfile Magazine - - Contents -

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.

BARN­STORM­ING RE­TURN

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

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