The Waltham Place bird list currently stands at 73 species, some of which are easily identified on any walk through the gardens and woodlands whilst others are more difficult to observe, or seasonal visitors. The revised Berkshire Bird Atlas records an additional 22 species in the two tetrads that cross Waltham Place Estate, suggesting that these birds may (or may not) visit Waltham land.
The gardens are home to many small birds who utilize the lush vegetation for cover and feed. Wrens, robins, tits, song thrushes, dunnocks, blackbirds, and wood pigeons abound, ensuring that there is always sweet birdsong to accompany the gardeners as they work. Our habit of leaving seed heads in place throughout the Winter months ensures a plentiful supply of seed for the birds. Goldfinches have become one of our most common visitors -they are particularly adept at removing the seeds from the plentiful teasels.
The lake is home to resident waterfowl such as coots, little grebes, mallards and moorhens. The yearly arrival of Canada geese heralds the onset of Spring and it is one of the seasonal delights to watch them raise their young here each year. Tufted ducks, teal and water rail are more transient visitors, using the lake for a few days or weeks before moving on. In 2020, two pairs of Egyptian geese visited, using the lake and outlying fields for an extended period over the festive season.
The estate boasts a constant corvid presence with a strong community of jackdaws based around the farmyard and outbuildings. In the woodlands, the oak trees ring with the call of unseen jays whilst the magpies stick to the hedgerow trees. A rookery by the Church Fields is still in use but diminished in size over recent years and crows can be seen following the tractor. The largest member of Waltham’s corvid community is the raven pair who frequent the sequoia on the back lawn. Having bred here successfully in 2019 the ravens continue to visit but did not choose to raise their young here in 2020. We have had a steady stream of visits to our tallest tree throughout late 2020 into 2021 and are hopeful that this year may see a return to nesting.
The combination of woodland blocks, arable fields, pastures and hedgerows offers much to support birds. Birds of prey such as buzzard, tawny owl, red kite and kestrel breed here successfully, no doubt using the strong populations of small mammals as a food source. Summer warblers such as blackcaps, garden warblers, chiffchaffs and whitethroats can all be noted in season, for those willing to venture out across the estate. The 50 Acre Field is notable in its makeup as it offers an area of undisturbed, tussocky grass along with scrub, bramble and copses of established saplings. This field yields the widest variety of grassland and hedgerow species, including a community of skylarks, who can be observed in aerial song from Spring through to Autumn. From Autumn onwards, Winter seasonal visitors such as fieldfare and redwing can be found, plundering the hedgerows for berries or combing the pastures for earthworms. In the woodland, the mixture of mature trees and standing deadwood offers good habitat for woodland species. Both green and spotted woodpeckers breed successfully, as do treecreeper and nuthatches.
A breeding bird survey conducted in 2020 by Brian Clews, recorded 59 species of bird.
‘In terms of breeding success, as indicated by song territories, nests discovered of fledged birds seen, 30 species were in song, nests of 18 species were found, and young of 24 species observed. The overall number of species for which any indication of breeding was established was 39, equaling 63% of species present on the Estate. However, at least another 3 species (Jay, Mistle Thrush and Red Kite) will almost have certainly bred, despite evidence evading the observers. This would indicate that the variety of habitats, and the management regime currently in place for each, ensures a wide range of bird species thriving on the Estate.’