Weather: Cloudy & dull, cold, no wind
Observers: Kaye, Linda, Ian, Phil
Saturday night’s snow covered St Nicks to a depth of 4 – 5 inches, and very little has melted since then. The eco-volunteers have been busy clearing some of the main paths, but much of the reserve remains blanketed under snow. The dull light gave a black-and-white appearance to the scenery, but there was the odd splash of colour from birds, new leaves and the still-flowering Gorse.
Both Tang Hall and Osbaldwick Becks were free of ice, and flowing well, but the Environment Centre pond was completely frozen over.
Birds: Ian was back from his birding trip to Ghana and seemed happy to swap Yellow-crowned Gonolek for Bullfinch and Bruce’s Green Pigeon for Woodpigeon. He wasn’t too sure, however, about moving from +35C to -2C!
We finally found a new bird for St Nicks which we had been expecting to see but which has eluded us until today: Fieldfare. Like the Redwings which have been feeding in small numbers on the site this winter, Fieldfares are members of the thrush family from Scandinavia which overwinter in the UK in large numbers. We first noticed a flock of about 30 thrushes flying over, which Ian thought might be Fieldfares. Then a single bird flew back, calling with its distinctive “laughing” cackle, which clinched the ID. Subsequently, the large flock passed twice more over the site, giving good enough views of the plumage to confirm the ID. No photos, though, and no birds were observed landing to feed.
Walking down the Tang Hall Beck path, Phil suddenly noticed a Kingfisher perched on the opposite side of the beck, where it stayed for a minute or so. We normally only see this species from the culvert, so it was good to find another place where we can look out for it – until the spring leaf growth makes it impossible!
One of the most common birds seen today was Bullfinch, and one party included at least six
individuals, both males and females. We had excellent, close views of the birds feeding in the snow.
Other birds foraging in the snow included Long-tailed Tit (but never more than three at a time), Blue and Great Tits and Dunnocks. We haven’t seen “Stumpy”, the “no-tailed tit” for a month or so. Maybe he’s finally grown his tail 🙂 There were a few Robins around, but not vocalising. The usual Robin was at the Tang Hall Beck culvert, but refused to be tempted by the bit of seed which Ian put down!
There was a surprising shortage of Blackbirds, with only three individuals being seen, despite us checking the two main apple windfall sites. Magpies, on the other hand, were numerous all over the reserve. Down Osbaldwick Beck we saw the same pair of Magpies carrying twigs as we had seen last week. We’re not sure if they were nest building (no sight of a new nest) or simply pair-bonding.
Finches were also thin on the ground, with isolated sightings of Goldfinches, a couple of Greenfinches and a single Chaffinch. No sign this week of either Siskin or Lesser Redpoll. In addition to the Fieldfares, other “fly-over” birds included a group of 7 Greylag Geese and single Black-headed and Herring Gulls, along with the usual Carrion Crows and Woodpigeons. A single Collared Dove was also seen in flight, and a pair of Mallards lifted off Osbaldwick Beck, where we also saw a single Moorhen.
Completing our count of 24 bird species were Wrens (a couple seen around the reserve, plus one on the frozen pond at the Environment Centre) plus House Sparrow and Starling, seen near the Environment Centre.
Mammals: There were a few Grey Squirrels around, and a single Rabbit at the warren.
Plants & Flowers: The Celandine patch is hidden under a layer of snow, along with anything else that might be trying to grow. Of the conspicuous flowers, only the Gorse carries on regardless. It’s becoming clear that most of the Hazels have two generations of male catkins, but the little red female flowers are still few and far between. This week we managed to find female Alder flowers – good news because we need those strobiles for next year’s siskins. The prematurely opening leaf buds on Elder and Hawthorn seem unaffected by the cold conditions, and we came across one elder sapling sporting two or three fully mature leaves.