Bury Common or Bury Field is an ancient common in Newport Pagnell, and is my main local ‘patch’. It is a large area of common land (first mentioned in 1276), and it is just five minutes walk from my house. It has been a regular part of my life for around thirty years now. Bury Common is mainly open pasture and was grazed for many years, but there have been no cattle there for a few years now. What is usually called the lower meadow borders the river Ouse and has recently been managed for restoration to meadow, which has included planting yellow rattle. Although not a massively diverse habitat, the common includes a river bank, floodplain, pasture, hedgerows and small copses, and is next to grazed paddocks (sheep and horses) where there is a permissive riverside path, and is also next to a small patch of woodland.
It’s a good place to walk at any time of year and I walk there with Teo our dog for an hour or so most mornings and evenings. As it is a 5 minute walk, I can still spend quite a bit of time here even in lockdown and it feels like a real blessing. For me the first signs of spring are the larks which are heard more regularly once February arrives, although this year, there seemed to be less activity, perhaps because February was so wet. I’m pleased to say that larks are doing really well on the common now, even though it is well used by dog walkers. At the moment, with traffic reduced during lockdown, the common is often full of lark song with little other sound to disturb it. I’m not sure how they are successful on what can be quite a busy area, but they manage it and there is at least one field fenced off (though a dog could get through the wire fence easily enough).
Of the other various small farmland birds, I love seeing and hearing the meadow pipit which I still associate with wilder upland places. Small flocks are present on the common and active in the early spring. Another of my favourites is the reed bunting which is also present in reasonable numbers through the year. But my biggest favourite is the lapwing, perhaps because of its persistence and its haunting cry. It also reminds me of the area I grew up in in North Wales, by the cost where lapwings and curlews were numerous. At the moment there is just one pair on the common, which is nesting in a field abutting the lower meadow. (There were two one year, but there are never that many). Ground nesting birds have a difficult time anywhere – but here there is just this one pair, and they are close to the rookery, so a tricky place to be successful. The spring aerial display was wonderful, and this morning another walker on the common told me they had seen two chicks. That’s great news and I will be looking out for them.
As far as I can tell, some of the traditional farmland birds are here in relatively small numbers: small flocks of linnets, greenfinch, chaffinch (I don’t see many of these) and larger flocks of goldfinch. I am told by a local birder that there is a pair of bullfinches in the hedgerow between the main and lower common but have not been fortunate enough to see them yet. At this time of year, more and more migrants are appearing. Swallows turned up about 10 days ago – unfortunately not that many and sand martins have returned around the same time. Today I spotted some house martins.
The boundary between one of the upper fields that used to be an arable field, and the lower meadow is quite a rich area, especially where there are brambles along the boundary wire fence and where there is a very small copse at the end near an ash tree. Many birds use the fence and the posts as perches. A highlight for me a week ago was seeing a whitethroat here.
The river bank provides a different habitat. There is a pair of mandarin ducks currently though I have only seen the female and am still hoping for an appearance by the male. The paddocks where the horses graze is next to the river, and walking the river path is delightful. Yesterday was a very good day as I heard my first cuckoo: it seemed to be in the Lathbury area (about half a mile away) but we usually have at least one calling on the common, and have had two in the past. I then heard the call of another favourite bird of mine, the ‘cronk’ of the raven. Isn’t it wonderful that these birds are now seen much more frequently in the east of the country? I imagine the ravens that I hear on the common (but don’t usually see) are birds looking for new territories. I would be delighted if a pair decided to nest here.
The final highlight of yesterday morning’s walk was the little owl. We have a pair here that frequent the area near the paddocks, usually roosting in the same willow tree, but I hadn’t seen one for a while. The habitat must be nearly perfect for them. There is a fence running between the first paddock and the second, with a number of old willow trees along the fence. A further fence runs along the upper edge of the paddocks (at a right angle to the first fence) with a hedge behind and more willows, and a third wooden fence borders the path by the river. There are further fences between the paddocks. The owls often perch on one of the fences, and when disturbed or when they have had enough, there is always a willow to retreat to, and they are very well camouflaged in the willow. I imagine that the paddocks with the horse manure are rich in earthworms, whilst behind the paddocks there is an area of rough grass which usually has a good population of voles.
[submitted 26 April 2020]