The heavy snow has driven many birds to behave differently. Twitter is awash with excited records of fieldfare and redwing in gardens... even little concrete squares in the city. I too have noticed an influx of thrushes to the food I've put out, but was amazed to find three snipe in the ditch that runs along the length of my garden. I'm a bit miffed, because I confidently predicted that the next unusual garden sighting would be curlew.
Any standing water has frozen, so birds that rely on open water or wet mud are forced to feed elsewhere (hence the garden snipe). The river can be a big draw during the big freeze and Nick messaged me on Saturday morning to say that he'd seen redshank and wigeon on the Swale at Morton. These are both birds that would add to my year-list so as soon as I was done with parenting duties, I headed out with optimism.
There were lots of birds about. Teal erupted from every ditch and the river was dripping with them. These are ducks that ten years ago were pretty scarce around here... I've no idea what's caused the recent increase in numbers, though there's no question that there is plenty of habitat for them.
At the South Western extreme of the patch I spotted a small wader in flight with some teal. It was short in the bill with no trailing legs or tail, so I got briefly excited that it might be jack snipe. I couldn't track it down to confirm so mindful of the fading light, I jacked in the search and wandered North along the river. I kicked up countless snipe, a green sandpiper, two woodcock, a dozen goosander and yet more teal.
I reached the point in my usual walk that would force me away from the river. I decided that today the river was turning up the goods and was my best bet for something unusual, so I turned around to trace my steps back to the beginning. I'm glad I did... the small wader had returned and this time settled in plain sight. I crept up as slowly as I could until I could take this picture... a dunlin! My first ever on the patch, though a bird I often expect to see in the flashes that persist though the winter.