News from December 2010

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Although the weather has at last turned somewhat milder (at 5.70C still slightly below the average for this time of year) we have experienced bitingly cold temperatures over the last 6 weeks or so. The average daily maximum during December was only 2.80C and the average minimum during the night -2.10C. The coldest nights in Scartho were on 6th and 21st December when the temperature dipped to -10 although out of town it was much colder than this. It has, in fact, been the coldest December since 1910 but it has also been a drier than average month. Although there has been a lot of snow it was caused by only two significant falls on the 2nd and 7th of December and 18 inches of snow is only equivalent to 2 inches of rain. This extreme cold weather has, however, had a significant effect on the wildlife. Larger numbers of birds than usual have been visiting our garden bird feeders. As well as the ring-necked parakeet I mentioned last month we have had large numbers of goldfinch (12 queuing up this morning), chaffinches and blackbirds as well as smaller numbers of tits, dunnock and robins with a solitary female blackcap (normally a summer visitor). Large numbers of waxwings have been around as well as flocks of fieldfare and redwing, all stripping the hedgerows of berries. I was lucky enough to be able to photograph waxwing at Water’s Edge in Barton on 13th December and two days later went to try and find (unsuccessfully) a flock of 50 in Tentercroft Street car park in Lincoln. These birds visit us in this country when Scandinavia experiences extreme cold temperatures as it is usually milder here and they can find food more easily. As they do not normally come into contact with humans they are very tame and allow a close approach. My nephew recently observed a flock of about 20 from mere feet away.
The day I travelled to Barton to photograph the waxwings began grey, cold and misty although later brighter weather moved down from the north to give better light. As well as the waxwings there were plenty of other birds about including bullfinch, fieldfare, redwing and a curlew flew over treating me to it’s beautiful liquid call. From Barton I moved on to Worlaby Carrs near Brigg hoping to see the short-eared owls. When I arrived and began to drive down Carr Lane I couldn’t believe how deeply covered in rutted ice and treacherous it was. Unfortunately once I started down the road I was committed as there was nowhere to safely turn round until I reached the parking spot half a mile further on. Worryingly since then my car has developed an expensive sounding rattle and it is booked in on Thursday to have it looked at. On a brighter note, however, I not only managed to see the shorties but also was successful in taking photographs. These are large wonderful owls that hunt in daylight and form a winter roost here. In the summer they depart for their breeding territories in our uplands, moorlands and marshes. On another visit to Worlaby on 6th January I was not fortunate enough to see any of these birds but I did have excellent views of female marsh and hen harriers. The latter was a particular treat as round here they are seen very rarely. There were also at least six buzzards present. This is a particularly rich and important area for wintering birds of prey or raptors and sadly planning permission has been sought to develop a wind farm here. I find my loyalties divided on this subject – whilst I applaud the green thinking behind wind farms and I find them strangely attractive offshore I feel strongly that much research should be carried out before siting them in areas with sensitive wildlife.
On 6th January I also visited Far Ings nature reserve and was staggered to find all of the lakes still thickly covered with ice. I was the only person in Ness Hide and when I opened up the flaps the reserve was deserted and silent. This was very worrying and I couldn’t help but muse on the fate of the kingfishers, bitterns, bearded tits and water rails that make this reserve so special never mind all of the more common water fowl that would normally be on the lakes. After two severe winters now it is to be hoped that populations recover quickly.
I was delighted, on a short visit to South Wales in early December, to get excellent views of the colourful green woodpecker. I see greater spotted woodpeckers all the time and regularly hear greens but they are surprisingly elusive and seeing one clearly was a real treat. Another unusual sighting occurred at dusk on 27th December. As we drove past Hereford school field a woodcock flew up and over towards nearby gardens. Woodcock are woodland birds, quite large, stocky, short-legged waders related to snipe. They are incredibly secretive and rarely seen even by birdwatchers. I can only surmise that it is another effect of the cold winter and it had ventured into town lured by slightly warmer temperatures and food.
During this last month we have been treated to two wonderful astronomical events. Early in the morning at dawn on 21st December, also our coldest night, there was a total eclipse of the moon. We were fortunate to have clear skies and it was a moving experience to see the moon gradually disappear as the shadow of the Earth passed over it. The colour of the moon changed as well and it took on stunningly beautiful orange/red tones. This was a day of fabulous hoar frost and out in the Wolds the landscape sparkled as though sprinkled with diamonds. The 4th of January gave us a partial eclipse of the sun, this time as the moon passed between ourselves and the sun. Sadly though our skies were leaden and cloudy and I had to make do with television images.
Over New Year we met up with my brother and sister-in-law in Derbyshire at Hartington Youth Hostel for a few days walking. We didn’t have wonderful weather as it was grey and drizzly most of the time but it never stopped us doing anything. While we were there we had excellent views of dippers flying up and down the River Dove feeding and bobbing up and down like portly white-shirted gentlemen! They are stout birds, wren-like in shape but very much larger, with large sturdy legs and a short, often cocked tail. They have a dark back and dazzlingly white breast. When perched on rocks in the river they dip up and down, camouflaging themselves by merging with the running and splashing water. They plunge or walk into the water, remaining submerged to feed on grubs and small life on the bottom. I was fortunate enough to photograph dippers a few years ago in nearby Lathkill Dale and remember finding a nest by the River Wharfe when my brother and I were small boys – many years ago!!
More recently I have enjoyed photographing at my feeding station at Lindsey Tree Services woodyard and was pleased to get shots of the greater spotted woodpecker among many others. I have also visited the public feeding station in Bradley Woods where I have been delighted to photograph treecreeper and nuthatch.