Thursday, 28 February 2013

End of month bird count at Lake Farm and a little history lesson.

Spring is in the air !! The whole of the front of Lake Farm, where the toddlers  playground and Skylark statue are situated, is smothered in purple and yellow crocuses. These were planted by the local primary school back in 2000. They also planted daffodils to spell out 2000 but it will another month or so before I can see that again. The crocuses have naturalised really well. Ironically these bulbs are in part of the proposed new school building area !
It was a pleasant and quiet day at Lake Farm for the end of month bird count. It wasn't as cold as it had been recently, but there was still a bit of a chilly breeze, and the sun tried very hard to break through the clouds.
 As always I separated the site into four, and worked each quarter, adding tallys to my little book.
The Reed Buntings were, as usual, in the hedgerow running alongside Botwell Common Road. They were more active than when I last saw them eight days ago. A lot of the males were chasing each other around. I also flushed quite a few from low down in the long grasses, so there may have been more than I actually added to my total tally today. I'm not sure why they are hankering down in the long grasses, the breeze wasn't that strong, and it was fairly mild weather. But the ones I did see were vocal, and I got a total of nine birds today. The males definitely out numbered the females.
The Skylarks were even more vocal. And trying to photograph them is like trying to photograph Lord Lucan !! Impossible. Every time I heard one calling its raspy song, I tried to locate it without fail. Three birds seen in the air but I reckon I heard at least another five or six birds on the ground. Last year, as the weather got warmer, the Skylarks became more and more visible until I had my crowning moment in July when I managed to photograph a juvenile perched on a post. Fingers and talons crossed that I get the same this year.
Not one Stonechat could I find ! Such a comparison to January when I had guaranteed sightings of at least four every time I went to LF. There were also no Redwings or Fieldfares, and the Meadow Pipit that hung around for three or four days early on in February, has also gone.
The gull field had good numbers. Counted 49 birds, took photos and done my identifications from them. At least 12 Black-headed gulls, 34 Common gulls and 3 suspect Herring gulls of various juvenile plumage stages. I immediately thought of my friend Sue Barry, who came to LF with me on 20th Feb to see the gull field, and not one gull was there !! (but she did go away happy with sightings of Reedys and Skylark)
Other good numbers on site were the House Sparrows, at least 28 were in the scrubby hedgerow, Woodpigs, over 25 scattered over the site and singing Blue Tits, at least 13 were seen today, most of them in pairs. Magpies are also doing well, over 20 today, mainly in small groups but at least two pairs seen gathering twigs.
As well as the Reedys, Skylarks and Blue Tits singing, there were three Robins singing from various corners of the site. I'm surprised how low that number is. Lake Farm is almost 60 acres so I would have expected more numbers of Robins.
No Mistle Thrushes today and just one solo Song Thrush. Again, not quite the numbers I would expect to see at this time of year.
After doing my bird count I trotted off back to the front of the site to have a look at the resident feral pigeons. The numbers here exceed 50-60 some days, but some of the colours and plumage's are quite interesting. One bird stood out from all the others. It was pure white with dyed purple tail feathers and purple markings around its eyes. It has one blue plastic leg ring. Its fairly tame, and you can get quite close to it, but not close enough to pick it up. The ferals seem to have accepted it as one of their own. I emailed Sean Huggins, my LNHS point of contact, and he thinks its escaped from a private collection. Its not a racing pigeon, and as the ring is un-marked, its going to be very hard to locate its owner. I'm going to email the photos to a contact I have at the local paper. Maybe I can track down its owner, and hopefully ask why the bird is dyed and ringed.
female Reed Bunting
Long-tailed Tit
All in all not a bad day.

A few of my friends have queried why Lake Farm is called that, especially as its not a farm and doesn't have a lake. So here is a short history lesson.......

 Are you sitting comfortably ? Then I'll begin.......

The 60 acre site now known as Lake Farm, was originally part of the grounds to a house called Lake House, owned by the Shackle family and dating back to around 1840. It was called Lake House after a large ornamental man-made lake which used to lay just north east of the site as it is now. The lake was filled in back in 1954 for reasons unknown.

The site as it is now, was used by the Shackle family for making bricks back in 1850. This continued for some years and there are at least two recorded gravel pits on this site during this time.

I then have a huge gap in my research from 1850-1945. Its a work in progress, and I'll update on this blog as further information is found.

After the Second World War, the Lake Farm site was used for the testing of radar equipment for armoured vehicles. The company Thorn-EMI continued to use this site until 1991 though I cannot find out what that company used the site for. Some radar relics still remain on site.

If anyone can help me with more of the history of the site, please feel free to contact me. I have found a couple of areas on site in the winter months which puzzle me. One of them is a large flat concrete 'door' flush to the floor, with iron 'handles'. These are not easily seen during spring, summer and autumn when the grasses and scrub grow over them.

monument at the Dawley Road car park entrance
plaque from the above monument
So there ends my blog for today. A good bird count, a dyed purple dove and a call out for a historian. I'm off work tomorrow and hoping to get to another site in Kent, so having a couple of glasses of well deserved Echo Falls before an early night.


  1. hi.
    i was just surfing the web looking for anything about EMI and came upon your site!
    extremely good work youre doing, i must say, as i too am interested in local wildlife and what we can all do to encourage it.
    i actually used to work at EMI, which as you correctly say, later became Thorn-EMI, which signalled the death knell for this remarkable firm, as soon after, Maggie Thatcher came to power and one of the first things she did was to cut the defence budget, which meant projects going on at EMI as well as places like Marconi in Stanmore etc.
    EMI had a ground-breaking radar called Searchwater, which I think is still being used by the RAF in Scotland, but which was chopped under Maggie's orders, and instead the UK Govt decided to buy the American AWACS system instead....defies logic if you ask me, as we had a far superior product and thousands of local jobs went with it, too.
    anyway, back to Lake Farm...i was a radar engineer as i have mentioned, and we were sometimes called to take our radar gear to Lake Farm to test it out.
    like most of the work at EMI Radar, it was all hush-hush, so we cannot talk very much about it even today, but the type of radar we tested at Lake Farm was a kind of tracking radar....the way we tested it was to release helium-filled balloons with metal foil strips inside of them, and track how far they went before disappearing off the screen.....legend has it that some balloons were
    trackable almost as far as the coast of France!
    as far as the actual site where this was done at lake Farm is concerned, ive been there many times trying to see if anything is still left there, but try as i may, havent been able to see anything, although i had heard that the original site was still there.
    we had a little raised cabin, painted dark green, in which we had all our test gear set up, and we used to pack the radar to be tested into the company Land Rover and drive down from just up Dawley Road where Radar House was situated (now DHL buildings).
    funnily enough, i just remembered an Indian chap who also worked with us at EMI in those days....his name was Laiq (pronounced "Lake") Qureshi, and yep, you guessed it, he was always the one to be chosen to work at Lake much so that whenever work at Lake Farm was mentioned, everyone automatically looked at Laiq!
    another few chaps who worked at lake Farm a lot were Derek (cant recall his last name...probably passed away to that great big Lake Farm in the sky now i'd think, as he was pretty old in the days when i was there....we're talking about the mid 80s), and Frank Goulty (he was quite a lad...very well known all over EMI) and Mike Greengrow, whom i bumped into sometime ago at sainsburys in Hayes, and Phil Seastrom who also did a stint at Lake Farm i think, although he later became a specialist on the Searchwater radar.
    other chaps i know who may have worked at Lake Farm were Phil Armstrong (now working at TMD, Swallowfield Way, Hayes) and my old friend John Gilbert (sadly passed away back in 2000) and finally Cyril Heard, top radar engineer with a passion for radio controlled aircraft, last heard from living in Devon somewhere!
    anyway, i hope this little (!) response has filled in some missing gaps for you and wish you well in your work!
    im usually at Lake Farm at the weekends walking my dog Shera there!

  2. I worked in the green hut on Lake Farm on and off from 1972 to 1987 testing radar scanners with an engineer called Derek Dodd. I took over from Cyril Heard in 1972 who set the hut up to test scanners and then Derek Dodd took over from me in 1974 although I was out there as a back up till 1987.
    The hut used to test the radar scanners was an old army wagon that was converted to rotate 360 degrees either clockwise or anti-clockwise. It was a simple setup with a transmitter at Dawley road pointing into the hut which was about 100yds away and had the receiving gear inside. It was pretty basic working there, we had no toilets and used mainly the social club for that or the Sheraton works. It was actually farmed by a local farmer who grew cabbages and other vegetables to be used as food for his cows etc. Each year he would come out to Lake Farm and spread a horrible smelling muck all over the fields which we had to put up with till he dug it in with his tractor. We also had the smell emanating from the digging out of the Stockley landfill site for the new Stockley Park Industrial area. The smell wafted over Lake Farm and local housing causing a lot of discontent around the early 1980's. There was a strange story that also got into the local papers about the remains of an elephant being dug up on the landfill site. A local story was that a visiting circus had an elephant die and they buried it in the Landfill site in Victorian times. A wag phoned the local paper and said an elephants remains had been dug up. The landfill site at the time of the digging up was surrounded by a tall mesh fence and from Lake farm we saw some people trying to get in through the fence. It turned out to be the press who had been told two elephants, six monkeys and a giraffe had been dug up, I kid you not. Of course it wasn't true but it livened up the reading of the incredibly dull Hillingdon Gazette for a couple of weeks.
    There were a lot of aerials tested on the site including the ones used for TV transmission, I think there were three or four compounds situated on the area testing aerials. And as already said a radar was tested on the site by tracking helium filled balloons with silver coated ping pong balls inside. Yes some balloons did get as far as France and were found by a French boy. An engineer had put the name of the manager Alan Swallow on a label and tied it to the balloon and said if it was returned to the address given there would be a prize for the sender. The French boy sent it back asking for his prize and Alan Swallow then initiated an inquiry, he never did find out who used his name. The engineers had a whip round to send to the French boy as his prize.
    All the time I worked on Lake Farm it was a busy place considering it was just fields then. People walking dogs, using it as a short cut from Dawley road to Printing House Lane, I once saw a police chase out there which resembled Keystone cops. It was also filled with numerous wildlife which this website is about and not what I have been writing.
    I did some work on the history of the site when I first started working there.
    There was an estate which covered the Lake Farm site and the EMI factories going back to before the Domesday book called Dawley Manor which had a large house named for obvious reasons Dawley House; it was demolished in 1776. The wall that was seen on the right of the Dawley Road when driving towards EMI was built in the 1700s around the House and was a mile long, to keep victims of the smallpox outbreak from getting onto the manor. Dawley manor then became brickfields until EMI bought the site in 1911. It is good to see the site is preserved now for nature.
    Oh lastly, Frank Goulty had a habit of crashing Land Rovers on the Lake Farm site.