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Our first farm walk with Naturetrek

Neil McMahon reports on a fantastic day of birdwatching at Rectory farm on a Naturetrek tour

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Good Friday and indeed Easter is traditionally not well-blessed when it comes to good weather, but this year our first Naturetrek Day Tour at Rectory Farm, Great Easton was very warm and sunny! Our first Farming and Conservation at Eyebrook day tour was designed to be a mix of seeing typical wildlife to be found on a working farm with conservation in mind, understanding the values of nurturing the land and an insight into the family that have managed the farm for three generations and a little of the workings of Eyebrook Wild Bird Feeds.

On arrival there was a cuppa on offer and after an introduction to the farm we took a slow walk through the farmyard and took a gradual wander up a gentle escarpment to admire the rolling countryside and views of Rutland, Leicestershire and Northamptonshire. Rockingham Castle and the Welland Valley with the Harringworth viaduct dominated the views into Northamptonshire to the south and the east, but we could also see the windmill at Morcott (Rutland) and various church spires and towers of villages and hamlets all around. Immediately north and below us was the 1930s Eyebrook Reservoir which was constructed to provide water to the steel industry in Corby, Northamptonshire and then made famous in the Second World War when the RAF used Lancaster bombers (the squadron later to be called ‘The Dambusters’) to practice the ‘bouncing bomb’ prior to a successful raid on a dam in Germany.

Phil Johnson explained a history of the farm and area and Fay talked through the projected workings of the farm including the successes, the challenges and how world events such as the Ukraine crisis is affecting farming locally, nationally and internationally. Crop rotations, the extensive use of sheep to manage the land and nourish the top soil, conservation strips and Skylark plots were all discussed. We then let Phil and Fay go before we embarked on an idyllic meandering around the fields and hedges – we had already enjoyed close views of Brown Hares and the loud, melodious songs of Skylarks were constant and just didn’t stop all day!

The warm weather and gentle breeze ensured it just wasn’t possible to look up and not count several Red Kites and Common Buzzards at any one time – Kestrels were a little more distant. Yellowhammers and Linnets were fidgeting in every hedgerow and the corvid family was well represented and included a couple of Ravens. Early summer migrants included a couple of singing Common Whitethroats, a migrant Willow Warbler and a couple each of Chiffchaff and Blackcap. The impossibly-blue skies ensured that Yellow Wagtails and Meadow Pipits were mostly passing over heard but not seen and several more hares included a leveret of the year. Red-legged Partridges popped up several times, a small number of Tree Sparrows chuntered away in the hedgerows and their larger House Sparrow cousins showed much better and were feeding with Chaffinches and Yellowhammers. Vibrant and fast-moving butterflies included Orange-tip, Brimstone, Large White, Green-veined White, Peacock, Comma and Small Tortoiseshell and overhead a Spitfire carved up the airspace with it’s Merlin engine roaring.  At the bottom of one of the fields we were close to the shores of the southern section of the reservoir and we saw a variety of common water birds but also a rare sighting in the shape of a summer plumage Slavonian Grebe!

It was then time for our packed lunch on a strategically-placed straw bale next to a small wild bird feeding station that attracted a few each of Yellowhammer, Chaffinch and Great Tit. Phil and Fay then rejoined us and chatted some more and we took a slow walk back to the farm buildings, walking past some Badger setts en-route and an area that was once a Roman settlement.

At Rectory Farm we were shown the mixing barn and the processes associated with the making, compilation and processing of the bird food, mostly from locally produced products and we were provided with a sample for our own garden birds. At about the same time another cup of tea/coffee was on offer together with home made scones and jam and cake – this is definitely a Naturetrek day tour with a (nice) difference! A couple of the farm dogs came to say hello and after a question and answer session with Fay and Phil (not the dogs) it was time to leave the very special kind of Johnson hospitality so that they could get on with their busy day. We finished with a spot of birdwatching at the north end of Eyebrook Reservoir where the high water levels ensured we saw more ducks than anything else but it did include a pair of stunning Garganey and we saw the Slavonian Grebe again at range. House Martin, Lapwing and oodles of kites and buzzards enhanced our afternoon birding and a calling Curlew flew around us just before we all departed for home.’

We have 3 more dates remaining on our Naturetrek tours – visit their website for further information and to book!   https://www.naturetrek.co.uk/