Accidental Game Crop

A young wheatear
A young wheatear

Huge numbers of wagtail and wheatear chicks have suddenly exploded across the low ground on the Chayne, due in part to the phenomenal (and essentially accidental) game crop that I have “put in” this year. I watched a huge flock of more than thirty young wagtails hunting midges and craneflies last night on the darkening, as well as a tangle of a dozen wheatear chicks with stubby tails and whisps of down still on their heads. I sat and kept an eye on them until the sun disappeared, at which point they all gathered in a queue on a strand of barbed wire and one by one dropped down to roost.

The “game crop” is literally swarming with insects after it was allowed to run wild into docks and redshank. Readers of this blog will remember the past two years of indifferent success with game crops, and ironically I have created quite the best cover (particularly in terms of brood-rearing) when I simply left the docks to do their worst. If I had tried to put in another crop this year it would be only a few inches long by now, and while the docks will fade and collapse by the winter, there is considerable value in having them up and at full stretch at this time of year. I am a big believer in brood rearing cover crops, and it seems that growing a field full of weeds is actually of considerable value.

I am planting up a rushy paddock with some blackgame friendly trees next to the game crop at the moment, and the combination of young trees, scrub and thick undergrowth is a haven for birds. Amongst the gobbets of cuckoo spit and orchids, I spotted whinchats, whitethroats, redpolls, linnets, goldfinches and siskins last night during a ten minute period. I could hear grasshopper warblers belling in the thicker patches of undergrowth, and a family of twite came buzzing past when I returned from my traps an hour later.

The weather continues to hold for the black grouse, and although I am cursed with the southern Scotsman’s congenital pessimism, I must concede that things are looking pretty good.


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