Weather: Bright, still, often sunny, but bitterly cold.
Observers: Kaj, Janetta, Phil, Kaye.
The reserve looked beautiful, with the sun highlighting the stems of Dogwood and greening Willow, but the sheet of ice on the pond should have warned us….
Birds: Setting off from the Centre, we stopped to try and count the House Sparrows in the perimeter hedge. It’s a sad reflection on the status of this chirpy little bird that we’re delighted to see as many as six at a time. Along Osbaldwick Beck, we found Blue Tits in several locations, singing and chasing one another (so there is of course always the possibility that we kept meeting the same little group….). At least half a dozen Siskins were feeding in the Alders, and further down the path Phil spotted a Collared Dove. On closer inspection it turned out to be a pair, snuggled so close together that until they opened half an eye each, it was hard to convince Kaj that we weren’t seeing things. We watched a pair of Magpies, one carrying a large twig in its beak, but couldn’t decide whether they were starting a nest or just messing about. Possibly both? On the path and grass verge below, another sixsome, this time Chaffinches, gave rise to discussion about plumage differences in male and female finches. There was a Moorhen pottering about in the usual stretch, along with just one pair of Mallards, photographed in moody black and white by Kaj. This area continues to be the likeliest spot for Wrens, and at least two Robins are proclaiming their territories – one of them with enough variation in its song to make us stop and check out the singer. Blackbirds, a couple of Great Tits and a lone Long-tail completed the sightings. Leaving the Beck, we did a circuit from the main path up to the Story Circle and back, finding a Dunnock, our first small flock of Goldfinches and a couple of Greenfinches. Along the Industrial Estate path, the highlight was a brief glimpse of a Redwing as it flew low towards Tang Hall Beck (where the water had dropped a little but was running faster than usual). There were more Long-tailed Tits and a couple of Starlings, together with the regular Wood Pigeons. By the time we got to the culvert, we were starting to go numb on the edges, and it would have taken a whole family of diving Kingfishers to keep us standing long out of the sun. Needless to say we didn’t see one, but by way of consolation there were more Goldfinches singing from cover, and Siskins flying down to the Beck to drink. Does their diet of Alder seeds make Siskins particularly thirsty, we wonder? As usual, we came across Bullfinches in several locations – one male catching the sun brilliantly as he flew between trees. Today, though, we seemed to hear the soft, fluting contact call more often than we got really good views.
Mammals: we came across just one Grey Squirrel.
Plants: early spring continues with the opening of various “pussy” type catkins on Willows and a Poplar species. The Alder catkins are lengthening but remain tight closed, while Hazel catkins can still be found at all stages of development. A second picture from Kaj’s mobile shows them still unopened behind one of last year’s Teasel heads. The Gorse is full of flower, but the patch of premature Lesser Celandines doesn’t look at all happy. Two or three White Dead-nettles in a shady spot up a side path looked too fresh to be remnants of the late autumn. The clump of Snowdrops on Osbaldwick Beck is no further out than last week, but Snowdrops and early Crocuses are well out in the Centre garden.
We hope to have Ian and his high tech lenses back with us next week, but are very grateful to Kaj for supplying visual interest in his absence.