Birding the Leicestershire Round
Section 3: Frisby to Somerby, Sunday 3rd April 2022
Participants: Sue and Jim. Mike and Victoria joined us for dinner at the Stilton Cheese Inn at Somerby.
The Leicestershire Round describes this section as ‘fairly strenuous’, but we set off confidently and undeterred until we realised that we were heading in completely the wrong direction! Having approached Frisby from the opposite end of the village, we became temporarily disorientated and had a strange sense of déjà vu as we embarked on the same footpath between the houses as we had finished on the time before! A very helpful lady put us right in the end and we began a steep climb through pastures to the A607 then continued over ploughed fields towards Gaddesby.
A thin, high-pitched call led us to our first new tick of the Round – a Bullfinch, which we were surprised not to have found earlier on given the types of habitat that we had walked through. Skylark and House Sparrow were numerous here, and Yellowhammer, Dunnock, Chaffinch and Wren were present along the ploughed field margins. We stopped briefly to watch four Brown Hares frolicking about in the ridge and furrow fields near to Frisby Grange before crossing a seemingly sterile landscape of intensely farmed agricultural land. Here however, we had our first Rookery of the day, with over 40 nests. Good numbers of Linnet were in the trees and hedgerows and four Herring Gulls flew overhead. In the next wheat field near to Glebe Farm, we found at least six pairs of Skylark singing and displaying together with over a dozen Meadow Pipit, and a large flock of Fieldfare. In the last ploughed field before Gaddesby, we began to count a huge number of Woodpigeon which were feeding along the drill lines. Having clocked up at least 1,000 birds, we moved ten paces further on only to reveal another 1,500 birds, previously obscured in a dip of the field. As these birds took off, the sky literally turned black for a few seconds before they began to disperse.
Crossing Gaddesby Road, the fluty tones of a Blackcap greeted us before we made our way across pastures, with the elegant ironstone spire of Gaddesby Church just visible through the trees. We stopped for a short break by an adjacent water trough, perching on some rather uncomfortable stones while we had some refreshments. Despite Gaddesby Hall Lake almost bordering the path here, the persistent call of a nearby Chiffchaff was the most notable bird in this area, until a Grey Heron came briefly into view.
Our path to Ashby Folville traversed more pastures, where we were monitored closely by large flocks of ewes and new-born lambs. Birds in this area included Jackdaw, Magpie, Pheasant, Wren, Robin, Blue Tit, Goldfinch, Pied Wagtail, Yellowhammer, House Sparrow, Linnet and Green Woodpecker.
Moving on towards Thorpe Satchville, more lambs, male and female Kestrel, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Collared Dove, singing Greenfinch and a sizeable flock of House Sparrow were noted. Lunch was taken in the grounds of the little church of St Michael, where a welcome seat set in peaceful surroundings made for a delightful picnic stop.
Leaving Thorpe Satchville via Baker’s Lane, we were treated to incredibly close views of a pair of Red Kite, flying low over the houses. One was carrying prey and feeding on the wing, plucking fur from its victim as it meandered along. Then, just when we were least expecting it, we heard the distinct call of a Snipe. We tracked it down to a field with no particular ‘snipe-friendly’ features as it took off and flew high over the adjacent trees. The second new tick of the day!
Our route then took us along a badly rutted track, mercifully dry, until we reached the footpath leading to the top of Burrough Hill. We zig-zagged our way through the heady coconut-scented yellow Gorse until we reached the toposcope, from where magnificent 360-degree views across Leicestershire could be observed. While we stood on the ramparts of this Iron Age fort in a chilly wind, we spotted another pair of Red Kite wheeling around. Suddenly one dropped to the ground and disturbed over a hundred feeding Linnet, before taking off again with what appeared to be one unfortunate bird in its talons. This too fed on the wing and the discarded feathers could be seen caught in the air. A pair of Buzzard and a pair of Kestrel joined the mix as we moved along to the OS trig-point for our last panoramic view before descending the grassy earthworks to Burrough Hill Farm.
Our route at this point suffered a slight diversion, due to the ongoing installation of a new Severn-Trent pipeline along the exact course of the Leicestershire Round! Fortunately, this was entirely negotiable, the most difficult part being the interpretation of the diversion signs on a map fixed to the first gate!
A steep descent eventually brought us to the entrance of the permissive path through Dalby Hills Woods – an area notorious for being muddy for most of the year. Fortunately for us, the recent dry weather meant that we were able to pick our way along the broad track through the trees with relative ease. We met up with a large group of cheery ‘Young Farmers’ from Rearsby heading in the opposite direction who were also walking the Leicestershire Round. They had walked 21 miles that day and were due to complete the Round at The Carrington Arms in Ashby Folville. Some looked in better shape than others, but the incentive of a pub at the end of it all was doing wonders for their spirit! We remarked on how lucky we were to find the path in such good condition, but our optimism was soon tamed when they announced that they had literally had to wade through shin-deep mud in Owston Woods earlier that day. Note to self: bring the wellingtons for the next stretch!!
Birds were few and far between through this primarily coniferous woodland, but we managed a few Blackbird, Robin, Wren, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Pheasant, Chaffinch, Jay and Chiffchaff here, as well as a Buzzard, before emerging back into the light of open pasture once more. Our final stretch into Somerby took us into the Punch Bowl, before sweeping down through the fields to the last strains of Meadow Pipit, Linnet, Yellowhammer, Robin, Wren and Song Thrush before dusk. By way of a finale, a large flock of Redwing alighted in trees on the opposite side of the small valley leading into Somerby, where we met up with friends and enjoyed a wonderful meal and great hospitality at the Stilton Cheese Inn.