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Nature columnist Ian Misselbrook explains what q short shooting season means for gamebirds

You might have noticed when you are walking in the countryside, that there are much greater numbers of pheasants and partridges than you would normally see at this time of year. This is due to the premature end to the shooting season caused by lockdown, explains nature enthusiast Ian Misselbrook.

The ecological ramifications of this are not yet known, but what I have seen were some impressive duals between rival cock pheasants.

Many gamekeepers are still feeding their gamebirds and hundreds of finches, buntings and sparrows are benefitting from this additional food source which will hopefully give them a healthy start to a successful breeding season.

Pheasants fighting. Photo: Ian Misselbrook
Pheasants fighting. Photo: Ian Misselbrook

Successful breeding is not just confined to birds. The first frogs appeared in our garden pond on March 24 and a few days later the water seemed to boil with well over 30 spawning frogs. Some poor female frogs were killed by a ball of over enthusiastic males trying to fertilise the spawn, but the result was more spawn than I had seen for some years.

Unfortunately, cold nights and late frosts in April turned much of the spawn to mush and many tiny newly hatched tadpoles succumbed to the ice. But survival is a numbers game and there are plenty of
fast-growing tadpoles remaining.

We have at least three pairs of house sparrows nesting. Two pairs in the eaves of our house and one pair in a bird box. A few years ago, a neighbour made an owl box which we erected more in hope than expectation.

Although our box did not host any owls, I am delighted that for the third year running we have a pair of stock doves in residence. A little smaller than a woodpigeon and somewhat larger than the rather drab collared doves, stock doves are really rather attractive when seen at close quarters.

The larger woodpigeons are common in our garden and eat more than their fair share of the bird food I put out, so I did not begrudge one of them falling prey to a large female sparrowhawk. The sparrowhawk returned on three consecutive days to completely strip the pigeon carcase of every morsel of meat.

Three species of deer are commonly found locally. Muntjac are regular visitors to our garden, much to the annoyance of my wife as they graze the wildflowers in our “woodland” area.

Roe deer tend to stick to spinneys in the fens and the larger fallow deer are usually confined to the woodlands and adjacent pastures. However, a group of fallow deer bounding across a field of flowering oilseed rape made a lovely photograph.

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