Sunday, 18 February 2018

In the Beak Mid-Winter… or A Winter’s Tail…

I can’t think of a good name for this post. I seem to call everything ‘a round-up’ at the moment, which is indicative of how little I update the blog these days. I tend to find motivation if I’ve taken a good picture, or I’ve had an extraordinary find, but both have been thin on the ground.

It’s felt cold this winter; certainly colder than last. The kind of cold you cannot wrap up and protect against. It seems the only defence is to keep moving, so despite putting a hide up in my garden, I’ve only sat in it once.

I moved house last October and now have an acre’s garden to play with. It’s currently just a wet, grassy paddock, but I have plans to enrich it for wildlife over the next few years. At the moment, the bird feeder just attracts tree sparrow, goldfinch and the occasional yellowhammer, as well as the usual tits and robins, etc. However, I’ve had a few interesting garden sightings since we moved including reed bunting, red kite and little egret!

The little egret has been present in the field beyond my garden for a while, so it came as little surprise when I eventually photographed it working along the drain aside the hedge. The next ‘unusual garden bird’ I’m sure will be curlew as they come right up to the edge of the garden.

The red kite has been hanging about since early Autumn last year. Folk in the village have sought me out to ask if I’d seen it and I was beginning to think I was going to miss out. It finally appeared, flying low at the end of the garden. I was working from home at the time and had to call short a phone call so I could rush upstairs and try to get a better view from the bedroom window.

On the wider patch, things have felt quiet. The fields have all been seeded with grass and not left to stubble and so the usual winter flocks of finches and buntings are absent. Despite this, I’ve made good progress on the year list.

I’ve had all three common owls in the headlights of the car this year. Last year it took until May to find a barn owl, but I’ve spotted at least one bird hunting regularly just off patch and it was only a matter of time before we crossed paths inside the patch boundaries. Unusually, it was actually within the village limits and frustratingly I couldn’t stop and watch it as I was rushing for the train.

Little grebe (a patch first last year) can now be found with some regularity along two stretches of the Swale, so I was able to seek it out and tick it off early. On the same day I had repeated views of various pink footed geese, both on the ground and skeining over.

At the North of the patch, the over-wintering green sandpiper were easy to find, but ‘the snipe field’ has not yet given me the jack snipe it did last winter. However, it’s still a joy and a surprise to kick up sixteen or so snipe from nothing but short grass and some boggy pools, so I visit the site regularly.

A woodcock and a flock of twenty skylark at Poole’s Waste were my reward for the once I’ve walked around it this year. It’s tough underfoot but I’m sure when the surrounding fields dry out and access improves, this will be the year I find water rail or something truly unusual there.

The hedgerow that yielded a firecrest to me a couple of years ago acts like a magnet each time I go out. Indeed, it’s full of goldcrest like this one, so I can spend an hour or more checking every bird over a 200-yard stretch hoping that lightning will strike twice.

It was while checking along this hedge that I stumbled upon a large chaffinch flock. I’ve barely seen a single one this year, such is the miserable state of the fields, but Richard at Langton Farm always leaves areas for the birds to feed. There had been a few brambling reported by a fellow birder in Scruton among the feeding chaffinch so I inspected the flock in detail and lo and behold, there was one orange and pink male. Alas, the flock was very flighty so I didn’t manage a picture.

Later that morning, I had just finished walking the riverine stretch of my usual route and was just about to head home, when I heard an unusual but familiar call. At first I thought it was a kingfisher, as a small bird, silhouetted against the bright river, flew and landed on a submerged tree 30 feet in front of me. Even better, a dipper!

It’s a bird I’ve been predicting will turn up for a few years. This one was clearly here as it was displaced from it’s usual feeding grounds by the floods, but I’m convinced the Swale at Langton will support dipper in the long-term and it’s reassuring that they’re close enough already that they can spill onto the patch. In fact Nick had one even further downstream last summer.

So all in all, it's not been a bad start to the year. Three additions to last years list already and some tricky birds banked takes me to 77 for the year. By this time last year I'd managed 72.


  1. A little jealous of your new garden bird! Great to be able to have a hide too, I hope the weather gets a little warmer so you can make use of it. I like the list I never thought about adding a status for the birds!

    1. I live in the middle of nowhere so anything can turn up in the garden, theoretically. Mark my words, it will be curlew next!

      I stole the idea for the list from Nick Morgan. I thinly veiled my plagiarism bu subtly changing the classification status ;0)