News from January 2010

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Short-eared Owl, Worlaby Carrs
I am sure that nobody needs telling that January was a milder month than December. The average daily maximum was 6.90C and the average minimum at night 2.30C. It has also been drier than December with 30mm of rain compared to 53.5 in December. This has been good news for the wildlife - spring flowers and catkins have begun to emerge and birds will be finding it easier to find food. I am delighted to be able to report that bitterns and kingfishers have been seen again at Far Ings and bearded tits have been heard so populations there have at least maintained a nucleus from which to recover.

There have been two highlights for me during January and early February – having wonderful views of and photographing waxwings and short-eared owls.

On 16th January I had heard that there was a large flock of waxwings at Immingham so I thought that it would be worth the drive over to try and get some photographs I was unsuccessful in Immingham but on the way back I was waiting in Hereford Avenue to turn onto Laceby Road when I checked out a white berried rowan yet again, this time delighted to see a large flock of 100+ waxwings high in the trees above it. I quickly found somewhere to park and spent a wonderful couple of hours with these birds watching and photographing them as they flew from the trees into the rowan to gorge themselves on its berries. They remained at this site for a couple of days and when they had stripped the berries they moved onto the cotoneaster trees outside Scartho Baths where they spent another week. I though that I was in heaven as it was only 5 minutes down the road from our house and I enjoyed many happy hours watching them. I think that the local population obtained just as much pleasure from watching the bird watchers and photographers with not a little bemusement. At both the college site and Scartho Baths a small number of mistle thrushes gave the waxwings a hard time by driving them away from the berries – it gave the photographers a frustrating time as well!! Redwings also joined in the feast while the berries lasted. These are the smallest and a very attractive member of the thrush family. They resemble the song thrush but they have a conspicuous white eye stripe and rich chestnut flanks.

Also during January and early February I have made several visits to Worlaby Carrs to watch and photograph the short-eared owls that spend the winter there. It is thought that there maybe as many as 20 overwintering birds there and it is not uncommon to see 6 in the air at once. One particular bird is incredibly confiding, hunting and perching close to the visiting bird watchers and photographers. Because this is such a special occurrence ornithologists from all over the country have been making the trip to enjoy the spectacle. At 15 inches these birds are roughly the same size as the more common tawny owl but they hunt during the day and at dusk. They are stunning birds with piercing yellow eyes. They hunt for voles and mice at Worlaby and are not averse to dismembering one in front of the watching birders. The best time to see them is from 2.00 until dusk. Although they do not always appear there is always something else to see: kestrel, buzzard, marsh and hen harriers, sparrow hawk and on one occasion last month a much rarer merlin. Sadly the owls will be leaving us by the end of February and moving off to their breeding grounds. Something to look forward to next winter though!

At the beginning of February I made a trip of a slightly different nature. To Clumber and Rufford Parks in Nottinghamshire, this time for hawfinches and nuthatches. I had never seen hawfinches before so it was with some anticipation that I parked up at Clumber. We had been told that birds were regularly to be found close to the chapel and sure enough we found them straight away. These are large finches with a huge bill which is capable of cracking seeds of the size of cherry stones. Our other quarry was the nuthatch at Rufford. These delightful birds have blue grey upper parts with beautiful orange flanks and breast. They are unusual in that they run headfirst down tree trunks – usually on the reverse side from the observer and pop out to feed from the seed and nuts that are provided. We are very fortunate that we now have a resident population of these birds in Bradley Woods.
At this time of year, like most people I gain a great deal of pleasure spotting the first spring flowers. I spotted my first snowdrop in flower on Scartho Road on 14th January and aconites on 23rd January. I spent an enjoyable afternoon yesterday photographing both species.