I’m pleased to tell you that I have seen Turtle Dove in Northamptonshire this year. It was only just in Northants but it was a Turtle Dove.
When I did a bird survey for my favourite local farmer, many years ago, I was delighted to find that there was a Turtle Dove purrrrrring on his farm. It was a bit of a surprise – but a very nice one. Duncan Farrington’s farm has lots of other good birds too – Yellow Wagtails, Lapwing (in some years), Yellowhammers, lots of Skylarks, and even a few Linnets. There are lots more birds on Duncan’s LEAF farm than there are on the BBS plot I survey regularly only a matter of a mile or so away (as the Carrion Crow flies).
Last summer I paid a few visits to Duncan’s farm to listen and look for Turtle Doves after I returned from the USA and was writing Martha. The last chapter of Martha will tell you something of those visits and my conversations with Duncan, and how delicious his Mellow Yellow Garlic Mayonnaise is, but I’ll tell you now that I didn’t see a (or hear) a Turtle Dove on his farm (although I saw plenty on a visit to the RSPB team studying them in Essex which is also described in Martha‘s last chapter).
This year I have visited again a few times but with no luck but I got an email from Duncan saying that he was pretty sure that he had seen Turtle Doves a couple of times recently in the vicinity of a pile of processed rape seed. I’ve often seen small flocks of Stock Doves on this patch, and the odd Woodpigeon too, but I was fairly sure that Duncan wouldn’t claim a Turtle Dove unless he was pretty sure he’d seen one. I had another look but with no success and Duncan and I hatched a plan that the next time he dumped some more rapeseed waste on this patch he would let me know and I’d stake it out from the car to have a really good look.
On Sunday morning I parked the car c50 yards away (having driven past the spot and disturbed c12 Stock Doves from it) and settled in to watch. I got really good views of Stock Doves – I like Stock Doves a lot and I’m glad that the readers of this blog do too.
There were a few Skylarks, Yellowhammers, Chaffinches and Whitethroats singing, but no Turtle Doves. Several Magpies were feeding on the pile of processed rapeseed. And then I was lucky enough to see, for it would have been easy to miss, a dove fly into the largest Ash tree in sight – as it spread its tail to land the characteristic white tail tips were obvious – this was a Turtle Dove. Hooray!
It sat in the same tree for c10 minutes but I couldn’t see it very well as there were branches in the way, which occasionally were blown aside in the breeze, but even then it was at an awkward angle through the car windscreen. The tail pattern was diagnostic, and the poor views of the perched bird were clearly of a rather fuzzy looking Turtle Dove. When it flew off, it flew straight out of sight. But it was a Turtle Dove! So now Duncan has seen Turtle Doves three times, including on one occasion two together, and I have seen them once.
I had another look, without success, on Monday morning and Duncan and I met in passing in the farmyard and both expressed our pleasure that the Turtle Doves are hanging on locally. They seem quite elusive, and I’m a little surprised I haven’t heard them at all, but they are clinging on as part of the rural Northamptonshire scene. I’m so pleased! I really am. I’m pleased I saw one, but more than that I am pleased that Duncan saw them first and that they are still using his farm. It’s a badge of respect from the bird world to Duncan’s management of his land that there are still some of this fast-declining farmland bird on his farm.