February 2012

Article text
On the weather front, February has been a month of two halves. We began with a fortnight of severe winter weather with a minimum temperature of -90C in our garden, but out of town temperatures of -140C were reached. Daily temperatures of 2 or 30C were common and we had a couple of nights of heavy snow. A fortnight later, however, we had a daytime maximum of 18.20C on 23rd and we could be forgiven for thinking that spring had arrived. As I write, though, on 5th March we are back in winter with a vengeance. Although we had two nights of snow they only amounted to a couple of millimetres of precipitation and it must be remembered that 2mm of rain is equivalent to 18mm of snow. Overall it was a very dry month with only 10.5 mm of precipitation. The drought situation has again been discussed on local and national news programmes and we are informed that unless we have significant rainfall over the next couple of months, and that means day after day of steady rain, we shall be facing the first hosepipe bans for many years. As our part of the world grows a significant amount of the country’s food, we could also be looking at higher prices. The severe weather at the beginning of the month did mean that our garden feeding stations were busy and those plants that had been forging on will have been knocked back, hopefully to catch up again later. Sadly our geraniums are dead ducks, but we did think this year to cover some of our more delicate plants with fleece.
The short-eared owls at Worlaby Carrs have continued to entertain birdwatchers and photographers this month, some days with at least 8 birds showing. Interestingly this species was mentioned on Winter Watch with Chris Packham explaining that the large numbers throughout the country was an example of irruptive migration meaning that large numbers may arrive one year and none the next. Hopefully next year will be another good year as anytime now the birds will be returning to their breeding grounds.
During the height of the cold weather at the beginning of the month Heather and I were out and about looking for landscape shots for my degree work. Near Walesby we were lucky enough to get fantastic views of a peregrine falcon, beautifully caught in the sun’s light. Shortly afterwards we enjoyed watching a hare running across the snowy fields, marvelling at how large these magnificent animals are. Snowdrops were out in force by this time and there were wonderful displays of winter aconites in Irby and also at Melton Ross. Daffodils were beginning to appear but the cold snap put a stop to their progress.
By 13th the snow had gone and the mild weather returned. All around birds were beginning to sing and it was beginning to feel spring-like once again. By the 21st blackbirds had begun to sing in the evenings from the local roof tops, one of my favourite sounds. On the 17th whilst out biking I stopped to check on the little owl that I photographed last year and was pleased to find it still there. Later on during the ride it was a delight to hear skylarks singing.
I always enjoy visits to Humberston Fitties and Tetney Marshes and the 19th of this month was no exception. Although bitingly cold the light was fabulous. The resident ruff had been joined by several others some of which were juveniles so our winter visitors are beginning to think about migrating back to their breeding grounds farther north. There were also good numbers of dunlin, knot, oystercatchers, redshank and turnstones and the usual egrets on the marsh which were next to impossible to get close to. On the same day I popped into Cleethorpes Country Park to see if the great crested grebes were displaying. Not only were they displaying well, but I was able to watch the pair constructing their nest in the same place as last year. The grebes display is a beautiful privilege to watch. They swim towards each other and then perform an elaborate courtship dance in which their crest is held erect and they twist and turn and indulge in beak to beak head shaking. Occasionaly they dive to the bottom and surface with weed in their bills and when they meet, the birds raise themselves out of the water, breast to breast by paddling very rapidly. These birds were almost hunted out of existence here in the 1800's, because hats with great crested grebe head feathers were considered the height of fashion.
I have enjoyed several woodland excursions during the month. I spent a wonderful couple of hours in Bradley woods photographing nuthatches at the feeding station there. It was a mild day and again birds were singing all around and the greater spotted woodpecker was drumming furiously. I also heard one in St Giles churchyard while photographing the snowdrops.