Bird life in Eyam:

by Lesley May

We are familiar with the garden birds that come to feed from our bird tables. Most evident are the tits, the Blue Tit being especially numerous, followed by the Great Tit and the occasional Coal Tit. We also have the popular Robin and House Sparrow, but the Tree Sparrow has become very rare. Finches soon appear if there are any seeds around: most common is the Chaffinch, but there are also Greenfinches, and more rarely Goldfinches. The Bullfinch hasn't been seen for some time here in Eyam, and the Songthrush and Mistlethrush have also become depleted over the years.  

The crows are represented by the many Rooks which nest in the trees of the churchyard, but the plundering Magpie and the Jay have become more common. Occasionally we may see the colourful Spotted Woodpecker.

 Around and above Eyam on moors and fields are many other birds, including Curlew, Grouse, Kestrel, Lapwing, Linnet, Meadow Pipit and Pheasant. There are also our winter visitors - Fieldfare and Redwing. Sadly, the skylark is almost a rarity, but some remember clouds of them high above with their distinctive song. 

Sparrow-Hawks soar high over their nesting woods, and it is startling to see one

flash past like a yellow streak skimming low after its prey. They are not popular

with pigeon fanciers! A resident of Eyam has some 60 racing pigeons, who home

their way back to Eyam from as far away as Saintes in France, some 532 miles

away, meeting various hazards on the way including hawks. There are old

(now empty) pigeon lofts in Eyam; at Eyam House, where the pigeons were used

mainly for food, and at Town Head, whose pigeons carried messages to

Macclesfield in connection with the silk trade.

Another resident has a large pond, and has had Mallard, Grey Herons, and

Yellow and Grey Wagtails visiting.

Our first Spring visitors are the Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers, though it is the Swallows' arrival that makes us think of spring. Other birds also arrive to nest and stay for the summer, such as the Cuckoo, House Martin and Swift (very distinctive with their long pointed wings), Redstart, Blackcap, and Spotted Flycatcher.

 

A favourite is the Owl. We may see (or more likely hear) Tawny Owls and Little Owls, but the Barn Owl is now very scarce nationally.

The drystone walls being such a feature of the area and also the nature of the geology,

especially the spoil heaps of the lead mines and the limestone quarries, have helped to

influence the flora of Eyam.

The drystone walls make ideal nest sites for small birds such as wrens and stone-chats,

with a well stocked larder of a great range of insects. Also small mammals find convenient

holes. Various types of lichen are seen, proving that there is a clean atmosphere. If there

should be any acid rain, this is neutralised by the dust from the limestone quarries. In damp

areas the walls cave cushiony moss and yellow Stonecrop. It is said that where Stonecrop

grows on roofs, it lessens the risk of lightning strikes.

The terrain produces its own wild flowers such as Lead wort (a type of Sandwort). These tiny white flowers flourish on the lead spoil heaps, as do Mountain Pansies. Drifts of Eyebright cover the slopes near the Boundary Stone in early summer.

The roadside verges have their own crop of flowers. The tall deep pink Foxgloves are much in evidence tucked alongside the walls (keeping the bumble bees busy) and aromatic Sweet Cecily, the black seeds being used to outline the designs of the Well Dressings. The leaves of the Sweet Briar Rose also prove useful. There is also the descriptively named bluey purple Cranesbill, dainty blue Harebells, Red Campion, Scabious, the small pink Herb Robert, and many more. In damper areas grow Moon Peonies, and Mayblock (local names of Ox Eye Daisy and Kingcup).

In the more acid pastures are Buttercups, Daisies and Cow Parsley, to name but a few. On the dams, Woolly Thistle, lively Quaking Grass, have been observed. Eyam boasts having Northern Marsh Orchids, rarer than the Early Purple, but fortunately increasing in numbers.

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