Some days stick in your mind. 23rd August 1986 was one such for me. I was wandering round my then home north of Leeds and took an unfamiliar route back to Bramhope via Lineham Farm. This is rough farmland right on the top of the escarpment that sits on the south-side of the Wharfe valley, and to the west becomes Otley Chevin and then Ilkley Moor. Long story short: 15 Whinchat, 6 Wheatear, 1 Redstart, 2 Tree Pipits. Birds I had never expected to see in those numbers so close to my home.
I went back on a couple of occasions that year and had more Whinchats and Wheatears. I moved out of the area but returned nearby in the early 90's and revisited a few times in early September and had regular Redstarts and Whinchats. My notes also show Yellow Wagtail, and resident Grey Partridge and Little Owl.
The decades have passed, life has moved on, but last week (9th) I found myself back in Bramhope with time to spare, so I headed out again down Breary Lane East and out to Lineham farm. How would it compare?
Firstly, its a shock to see the things you took for normal. The hawthorn hedges were windblown affairs; sparse, gnarled, twisted and stunted, not the lush and vibrant hedgerows down here in Hertfordshire. The fields were rammed with scores of sheep apparently being held for a few days prior to being taken to market. There had been crops grown in the area, but now it was just rough pasture and much of it looked as if it had been left to go wild and thistle-covered. And the views were fantastic, across Lower Wharfedale and up the Washburn Valley.
The first change in the birdlife was predictable: Red Kite. Not a single distant red kite, but four red kites in view at once, more behind me, one crouched in a field like a white-haired old lady with a grey shawl, and one just over my head. What an awesome change, and one worth jumping up and down about. The second change was Common Buzzard. 2 birds, sat in bushes so not just drifting over. this was a scarce bird back in the 80's in these parts, but like much of the rest of Eastern England they are now well established. Then c35 Lapwings in a field with 200 Starlings (not recorded in my old notes but were typically in the area), c150 Goldfinches and sat quietly amongst them 3 Siskin, also noted a Sparrowhawk, c20 Pied Wagtails, c20 Swallows, and a few Common Gulls - again a common bird in Yorkshire.
So on this occasion no migrants (other than Willow Chiffs calling distantly), no Grey Partridge, no Little Owl. That doesn't mean they aren't here, but the area has changed and I would not be surprised if the Partridge at least had gone.