Birds of Chesworth Farm wetland

barnowl

Because of its early morning and evening hunting habits the Barn Owl (Tyto alba) is the farm’s most regularly seen owl. It visits our wetland often to feed on the Field Voles that are found here. Their silent flight is essential to their ability to catch their prey in total darkness. The owl’s ears are asymmetrically placed on each side of the head – one ear higher than the other – and each ear has different sized openings. This amazing adaptation, coupled with the stiff feathers surrounding the facial disc which “funnel” the sounds, accurately pinpoints prey by sound alone.

A regular visitor to these areas during the late winter and early spring is the Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea), looking for frogs and newts that are returning to ponds to mate and egg-lay. A tall long-legged and elegant watcher at the water’s edge, it is unmistakeable, with its grey and white plumage, dark crest and streaked, elongated ‘bib’. The yellow dagger-like beak is used to great effect in catching its generally slippery prey of amphibians and fish. The birds nest colonially and eggs are laid in loose twig nests high in trees during February. It is likely that the birds visiting these wet meadows are from a small heronry at Warnham Local Nature Reserve on the north side of Horsham.

Moorhens (Gallinula chloropus) nest in a number places around the wetland and their chicks are frequently seen paddling in and out of the waterside plants. Omnivorous in its diet, it feeds on a range of plants and invertebrates. It can often be seen “up-ending” to pick vegetation and aquatic insects from below the water surface. Eggs are usually laid from around early April in a tight nest hidden in reeds and other vegetation around ponds and watercourses. The young, usually four or five on this wetland, are covered in fine, filamentous black down feathers. Look for the chick’s beak with its red base and fine yellow tip as it can often look out of proportion to the rest of the body.

Sit quietly and you may be lucky to see the Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) from the viewing platform as it races up and down the Arun. The azure blue flash as it streaks past is unmistakeable. However if you are lucky enough to see it quietly waiting for a small fish, contrast the azure and cobalt blues, the beautiful orange breast and feet and the bright snow-white dabs either side of the neck. Listen too for its single note call, usually delivered as it flies. Kingfishers can be seen in any month of the year along this stretch of the Arun but are most often seen during late summer and through autumn.

A regular visitor over the fields is the Buzzard (Buteo buteo) which is, today, probably Britain’s most common raptor. Although a comparatively large bird of prey, much of its diet consists of small rodents and rabbits, and interestingly, amphibians and many small invertebrates including earthworms. It is very adaptable and will vary its diet according to food availability throughout the year. Pairs have nested in nearby Denne Hill and woodland towards Copsale to the south. In autumn their young are often seen circling above these fields ready to land and search out worms and emerging insects.

The Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) is often mistaken for the similar Yellow Wagtail (M. flava) because of its bright lemon-yellow chest. But look for the extensive clean grey across the head and back and the male’s clear black ‘bib’, which really makes the “Grey Wag” unmistakeable. Usually seen pecking around the pond edges and along the wet ‘flush’ through the middle of the wetland. A pair has bred along the banks of the Arun in the area close to the weir, an ideal spot for them. They will be feeding on small aquatic flies and beetles and are also known to take the smaller damselflies that visit our wetlands.

Other birds (not shown on the interpretation board)

The quiet areas provide ideal nesting and feeding sites for a range of other species. These include almost daily visits from the Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), in spring and summer nesting birds such as the Common Whitethroat (Sylvia communis), Blackcap (Syvia atricapilla) and Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) that use the frequent bramble breaks, and infrequent winter visits from Water Rails, (Rallus aquaticusLittle Egrets (Egretta egretta) and the occasional Snipe (Gallinago gallinago).

LINKS

For more information about the birds you have seen, go to the British Trust for Ornithology About Birds page.

Illustration by Helen Joubert Design

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