November 2011

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Short-Eared Owl, Worlaby Carrs
November has been the second warmest on record and also a very dry month. The average daily maximum temperature was 12.30C compared to the normal November average of 9.50C and the average nightly minimum was 7.30C compared to the expected average of 3.50C. We have had a total rainfall for November of only 32.7mm compared to the expected 83.5mm. So good weather for wildlife, birds in particular, as there has been plenty of natural food around and there has not yet been much interest at my garden bird table or my winter feeding station. Things are not so good on the rainfall front, however, despite lots of dull, overcast days, as reservoirs are not filling up and we have actually had to water our pots once or twice during the month. On the bird front there has been plenty of migratory activity. All of our summer visitors have now left for warmer climes, whilst our winter visitors have begun to arrive. There has been a gradual influx of waders from the north and the Humber Estuary is now bustling with activity. Fieldfares and redwings have arrived to feast on the plethora of hedgerow fruits and first sightings have been made of waxwings and snowbuntings. The short-eared owls have returned to Worlaby Carrs with a maximum count of 15 reported.
Last year was particularly exciting at Worlaby Carrs with high numbers of short-eared owls regularly being seen and the first birds began to arrive back this year in October. These owls are partial migrants in this country and breed on upland heathland, moors and mountains. In the winter they gather communally at favoured sites such as Worlaby Carrs. They are diurnal and, at Worlaby begin hunting for their main prey of voles in the early afternoon. On arriving at Worlaby around lunchtime it can seem as if the area is lifeless, apart from the birdwatchers stationed at intervals down the lane, each hoping they had chosen the spot where a bird will perch obligingly on a fence post. If conditions are favourable, first one owl can be spotted in the far distance and then another and, hopefully, more. They appear as if from nowhere – they are suddenly just there. Gradually, as they quarter the rough carr land, they move closer until they are in range of the big lenses. They are large birds and have an erratic, mothlike flight as they wheel and tumble in their hunting. Occasionally two will meet and squabble briefly or there may be a confrontation with one of the much smaller local kestrels. I have made three visits to Worlaby this month and have seen birds on all occasions, the last one giving me wonderful opportunities for both flight and static photography. A visit here is a rewarding and magical experience and many days this winter will see me heading in this direction.
Another exciting and magical visit is the ‘must do’ experience of the Donna Nook Atlantic grey seal colony on the Lincolnshire Coast. I love our coastline. In winter it is wild and wonderful and you could be miles away from civilization. For much of the year grey seals at the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trusts' Donna Nook National Nature Reserve are at sea or hauled out on distant sandbanks. Every November and December, the seals give birth to their pups near the sand dunes: a wildlife spectacle which attracts visitors from across the UK. I made my first visit this year on 21st November, an overcast but reasonably bright day. There were 1100 adult seals present at the time with already 880 pups many of which had only just been born that morning. Already bulls were present, ready to mate with the cows as soon as they come into season after giving birth. Sadly, this year there has been a disaster. Over the weekend of 26th/27th November the gale force winds in Scotland caused a storm surge to sweep down the North Sea. Unfortunately this coincided with an already very high tide and this washed through the beach colony at Donna Nook. Pups became separated from their mothers and some even swept out to sea. I even found a dead one washed up on the beach at Cleethorpes. The Lincolnshire Trust initially, very sensibly, closed the reserve to visitors but as things sorted themselves out it has since been reopened. Hopefully the colony will soon recover.
On 25th November I had the opportunity to visit Harewood, near Harrogate to watch and photograph the red kites that are common in this area. It was a day of mixed weather and very high winds. We did, in fact, have to retreat to the car to shelter form the rain and hail on a couple of occasions. We did see plenty of kites, however, and what majestic birds they are. They are large raptors, being slightly bigger than buzzards, with wonderful rufous and back markings. It was a delight to watch them hunting over the fields; their flight is buoyant and leisurely with a constant twisting of the forked tail. Occasionally one would float over the trees right over our heads, looking stunning against a bright blue sky. Unfortunately, a very strong gust of wind blew my tripod and equipment over, necessitating a costly repair bill to camera body and teleconverter. Fortunately my treasured 500mm lens was unscathed, enabling me to continue photographing using a spare camera body.
Monday 28th November saw me on the beach at Cleethorpes looking for waders and snowbuntings. At first the beach appears empty but then in the distance, what seems to be a wisp of smoke appears and spirals up into the air, twists and turns and then returns to the ground. This is the magical sight of a wintering flock of waders which are joined by huge flocks of brent geese flying in V-shaped formations flying in from the fields where they have waited out the high tide. Walking up the beach towards Cleethorpes we noticed a large flock of small birds wheeling and tumbling in the air with white, brown and black markings. These were snow buntings that have bred in the high Arctic and here to spend the winter with us. They are confiding birds and allowed quite a close approach for photography.
This month has seen me setting up feeding stations in the garden and at Lindsey Tree Services woodyard where I have my winter feeding station. Hopefully colder weather will bring increasing activity. I am looking forward to watching greater spotted woodpeckers at close quarters down at the yard. I have also made my first winter visit to the feeding station at Bradley Woods and been delighted to have close views of the resident nuthatches as well as the usual tits and chaffinches.