Raptors in winter
If you look up almost anywhere near Sherborne there is a good chance the large bird soaring overhead will be a red kite or buzzard. A captivating sight, the slow wing beat and wide spread feathers on the wing tip make them easy to spot. During the spring many chicks were reared successfully but once fledged from their cosy nests and reared the young red kites, barn owls, and buzzards leave their parents and travel off on a ‘raptor gap year’ before settling down in a territory of their own.
If you are lucky, you might where the kites set up their winter roost – often in large numbers.
There is one to the north of Sherborne in a small wood in a remote part of the Windrush valley, which is home to between 70 and 80 birds. They can frequently be seen out and about hunting for food.
It is also in winter that some rare migrants might drop by. Ospreys, travelling to and from their breeding grounds further north occasionally stop by for a meal from the Sherborne brook. Hen harriers, short eared owls and merlin are rare visitors which have all been seen, taking advantage of the good numbers of voles and other food nearby.
Making a home
Raptors do well here because there is food – but the birds and their food need homes and that is down to the way the land is managed by our ranger team and tenant farmers. Trees are maintained across the estate which, together with quiet agricultural outbuildings, provide plenty of nesting sites for birds.
Areas of woodland and rough grassland provide homes for small mammals such as mice, rabbits and squirrels, which in turn become prey for the raptors. They’ll also eat frogs, toads and large insects such as mayflies, which are all plentiful in the waterways on the estate. This varied and abundant supply means that the estate can support a large number of predators.
Monitoring Sherborne’s raptor numbers helps us to know which types of birds are in the area, and what kind of work we need to do to help them thrive. Ranger Anna Field said: “We’ve been working with Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust to install barn owl boxes and to ring the young owlets for a couple of years now.
“Ringing allows us to track survival rates and geographical dispersal of the birds, and we have plans to extend this form of tagging to other raptor species on the estate.
“We also collect pellets (droppings) which provide information about a bird’s diet. This allows us to track changes over time and through different seasons.”
By working with partners such as Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust and the British Trust for Ornithology, we can share our findings and contribute to best practice on how to support these bird populations.