Weather: Broken cloud with bright spells, relatively mild.
Observers: Janetta, Kaj, Linda, Phil, Kaye
Yesterday was bitterly cold and frosty. This morning the frost had vanished, leaving the air rather damp and the thawing ground rather muddy, and causing Scott to speculate on whether the sun had come out during the night. The day felt less springlike than last week, with less bird song, but there was even more to find.
Birds: The feeders were busy, with Bullfinches, House Sparrows, Blue Tits and a Robin coming and going, while Collared Doves and the odd Dunnock hoovered up the spilt seeds. We prioritised a little botanical investigation in the Butterfly Walk – more of which later – and found very few birds in that area. A pair of Bullfinches in a tree near the Dragon Stones let us get quite close, and here and elsewhere there seemed to be more Magpies than usual in evidence. Near the industrial estate gate, we had a good if brief sighting of two Redwings, and a Dunnock was fossicking about in the base of the dead hedge. Somebody commented on how inconspicuous they are. Just wait till spring! The Woodpigeons loafing in a tree could easily have been the same birds we saw last week, but no Robins this time. There were plenty of Blue Tits and Great Tits about, including one Great Tit that might have been doing a bit of early prospecting for nest sites. From the path near the culvert, what we first assumed was a Wren turned out to be a Goldcrest, and Kaj got to see his first Siskin. From here on, finches ruled. Bullfinches turned up everywhere, including one group of two males and three females, and we found occasional Greenfinch and Chaffinch. Kaye of course was wittering on about Lesser Redpolls, and was mightily relieved when Phil miraculously picked one out in a flock of Goldfinches. We did have a go at explaining Redpoll species reorganisation, but only managed to demonstrate that we’re still a bit confused. A small group of Long-tailed Tits, a couple of genuine Wrens, a calling Pheasant and a fly-over Carrion Crow brought the species total to a very satisfactory 21.
Mammals: Two Brown Rats were foraging near the feeders, and we saw several Grey Squirrels. There was no sign of the Water Vole, but we didn’t spend long enough at the culvert to have much chance of a sighting.
Insects: Linda found a Seven-Spot Ladybird on a Mullein spike. We speculated on its chances of surviving interrupted hibernation, and Kaj took this picture on his mobile. (We still need you, Ian, but we’re doing our best!)
Plants: For once, Kaye got decisive, and headed off to the Butterfly Walk to look for Hazel flowers. There were dozens of male flowers – the familiar “lambs-tail” catkins. Some are fully open and have just about finished shedding their pollen, but there are plenty more follow. The tiny red female flowers aren’t easy to see, but even with careful searching we couldn’t find more than three or four to a bush. We wondered why a tree spends its energy producing so much pollen if there’s nothing to pollinate. Subsequent research reveals that related Kent Cobnuts are self-sterile (i.e. a given variety can pollinate another variety’s flowers but not its own) so perhaps our bushes are producing catkins as an altruistic venture. It’s always possible that there are unopened flower buds that we couldn’t distinguish from leaf buds, but at the moment it doesn’t look as though the squirrels can count on a good harvest of hazel nuts. Gorse was the only other reasonably seasonal flower. The early Celandine patch is no further out, presumably awaiting a sunny day to display itself. Three unseasonal oddities were a flowering Mayweed, a probable Hogweed, and a few quite well developed leaves on a sheltered Hawthorn bush. Apart from these, the cold weather seems to have finally finished the late flowers just as it’s time to look for the new ones.