The meteorological conditions, of what became a long weekend for many, have not been seen for perhaps seven years. The thick snow, very cold nights and bright sunshine of the 11th and 12th December were both a delight and an inconvenience. For our local wildlife it was a challenge and this was evident in the abundance of wild birds seeking refuge in our gardens and reports in this edition of the newsletter focus solely on our local bird population. Natural food becomes scarce in harsh conditions and you may have noticed birds feeding at increasing speed. They also stick together to increase their chances of survival both from predators, such as the Sparrowhawk (one of which I spotted in late November flying low over Main Road) and in the searching for food. Mixed feeding flocks are common in and around the village - chaffinches, greenfinches, meadow pipits, yellowhammers and tree sparrows can be seen in the fields and hedgerows leading out to Adderley and Audlem from Beswicks Lane. At the top of Napley Road on the other side of the village I watched a foraging flock of 100+ goldfinch (a ‘charm’ being the collective noun) on the move in search of weed seeds during the first week of December. I did not have my binoculars but expect Linnet and Siskin may have been with them in small numbers.
My garden bird table was full of activity during the cold snap in particular – Nuthatch and Great Spotted Woodpecker were daily visitors and I took great pleasure in watching the Starlings who visited in groups of around eight. These birds are often resented for their greed and aggravating behaviour on feeders and tables and have a bad reputation, however as a breeding bird they are in decline and the population is bolstered by migrants from further east in Europe in winter. I made a bird cake of beef suet, dried mealworms and mixed seed – they were very attracted to this, as were the Robins, and it distracted them enough to ensure the sunflower hearts and peanuts (a more expensive product!) were not quickly depleted. Spend some time watching them – Starlings have a fantastic plumage and .
Ron L has had an abundance of apples on two trees in a side garden at his house in Betton this year - with many still left on the trees and plenty of windfalls on the ground. A flock of 20+ Fieldfare and the odd Redwing (these smaller birds taking a more cautious approach) have visited frequently providing much entertainment. The Fieldfare take an apple to be their own and with much aggression and noise let the others know!
Tom S was lucky enough to see a barn owl on two consecutive evenings in December. The bird was even sat on the same post on Bearstone Road. Barn Owls will happily hunt from exposed perches as this is a good way of conserving energy.
Richard J reports a flock of lapwing (50-70) were in the field to the front of his house over the weekend of Saturday 16th December, with Starling, Black-Headed Gull and Rooks (the juvenile having a black beak so very similar to a Carrion Crow at this time of year – a Rook will have feathered thighs). Richard also had a Tawny Owl calling in his back garden on 15th December. You may also have heard their far carrying hoots and kewits recently as they seem to be at most corners of the village. This activity comes early as they may lay eggs from February so need to establish bonds with a mate during December and January.
Bev and Carol report seeing a flock of Long-Tailed Tits regularly in the village.
Roly T was very surprised to find a pair of Robins in his kitchen on a few occasions during the few days of snow. How they got in was a mystery but I am sure they made the most of the warmth.
Graham N, who is an avid feeder of wild birds, has seen an increase in activity during the cold weather. Up to 30 Blackbirds have gathered around the bird table and his feeders (which Graham tops up two or three times a day!). Graham reports having a Great Spotted Woodpecker on most days and a Pheasant that feeds happily under the feeders.
Linda N reports seeing four Whimbrel in the field behind Napley Drive. They landed very close to the garden fence and also flew around for 15 minutes giving opportunity to note key features. These birds are very similar to Curlew but are smaller and have lighter plumage underneath. Whimbrel migrate out of the UK in Autumn but a few can be seen in the UK in Winter. It may well be that the weather conditions moved these birds closer in land.
If you are taking a walk around the village over the festive period do try and pass by Partons Pool. The stretch of river here and the pool may allow you a glimpse of Kingfisher, Grey Wagtail and Heron – all of which I have seen here this month.
It has been fantastic to receive so many reports over the past few weeks – please keep them coming.