St Nicks

Centre for nature and green living

Wildwatch: 23 January 2013 – Winter Thrushes, singing Robins and food shortages

Weather: Gloomy, overcast, no wind, cool (2C to 3C) and occasional short, light snow flurries
Observers: Carrie, Ian, Kaye, Mark, Steve, Tim

A snowy Tang Hall Beck

A snowy Tang Hall Beck

Ian had his normal pre-Wildwatch yomp around Osbaldwick Beck and had some interesting sightings. Then, Ian & Steve had another trip round the beck, again, with some good sightings. They picked up Kaye, Mark and Tim part way round, and headed off to the Sluice Bridge, meeting Carrie on the way. We then retraced our steps from the bridge, had a quick stroll along the other side of Tang Hall Beck, and wandered back to the Environment Centre via the Bund Path. A good introduction to the reserve for newcomers Mark and Steve.

What with the poor light and the dampish conditions, few photos were taken today, so most of those below are from our archives!

Robin singing next to the Environment Centre

Robin singing next to the Environment Centre

Birds: Without it being a formal survey, we decided to do some counts of key species, and the results were interesting. We found at least ten singing Robins, with another two silent ones in close proximity to each other at the Kingfisher Culvert – a pair? With some of the singing birds possibly being females, it’s not possible at this time of the year to be certain how many breeding pairs we have. A count in a month or so’s time might be more revealing.

Redwing near the Butterfly Path

Redwing near the Butterfly Path

Down Osbaldwick Beck, Ian found two Fieldfares briefly perched in trees near Melrosegate. This species has normally been recorded only flying over the reserve. Three Song Thrushes were also in the same area. A little later, Ian and Steve had good views of a perched Redwing, with possibly another two birds close by. And, of course, there were Blackbirds all over the reserve.

A record number of ten Mallards were on Osbaldwick Beck, with another 3 or 4 on Tang Hall Beck. Also notable was a Black-headed Gull floating down “Ossie Beck”, with another 3 dropping in briefly into Tang Hall Beck. We seldom see this species actually landing on the reserve, so it’s possible that a food shortage, with a lot of frozen water in the York area, had driven them down. At least 50 were seen flying over the reserve, quite a high count. Talking of food shortages, most of the Hawthorn berries have gone, and the Rose Hips, largely ignored by birds, are starting to rot.

Greenfinch and Bullfinch on the feeder

Greenfinch (left) and Bullfinch (right) on the feeder

Finches.. we counted at least 12 Bullfinches, mainly in pairs, approximately 50 Goldfinches (good to see the flock size restored), with 3 -4 Siskins with them. It was also good to see about six Greenfinches along the Tang Hall Beck path, the most we’ve seen for a while. Maybe it’s a sign that the population of this species is recovering after a dip over the past year. But no Chaffinches today.

We encountered numerous (uncounted) Blue and Great Tits throughout our walk, and a very active flock of about a dozen Long-tailed Tits in the Lime trees at the Southern end of the Bund Path Some Blue Tits seemed to be following this flock around. A single Coal Tit was on the Environment Centre feeders; this has become a regular sight in recent weeks.

Old Magpie nest

Old Magpie nest

Magpies were, of course, all over the reserve. Once was seen near Osbaldwick Beck apparently carrying nesting material. This species tends to nest early in the year. A local dog walker asked us how many Magpies there were on the reserve. We had to say that we didn’t know! Maybe it’s time for a Magpie count? A few Carrion Crows were seen flying over the reserve.

Other birds seen in small numbers included a Sparrowhawk (flying North over the Playground), one or two Dunnocks, a couple of singing Wrens, a single singing Starling along the Bund Path (maybe off the reserve?) and a few House Sparrows, mainly near the Environment Centre. Three Collared Doves were seen (one in a courtship display flight) and, of course Woodpigeons everywhere! In total, we recorded 24 bird species – not bad for a grey, cold January day!

Plants:  There were only three species with flowers showing above the snow –  Gorse opposite the play area, and male catkins on Alder and Hazel.  The female flowers are biding their time and we’re unlikely to have anything new to report until the first mild spell.  Even in this weather, though, you can see subtle changes in the colour of Willow twigs and Sycamore buds.

Mammals: We saw two or three Grey Squirrels, including one entering an apparently new drey nest in the Lime trees at the end of the Bund Path. It will be worth watching this nest a little later in the year. We saw no Rabbits, but droppings, showing clearly in the snow, was evidence that this species is still around.

23 January 2013 | Categories: Wildwatch | Tags: Black-headed Gull, Coal Tit, fieldfare, food shortages, Magpie nesting material, Mallard, redwing, Singing Robin, Song Thrush