December 2011

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December last year continued very mild and also very dry, with a spring and summer drought in prospect in Lincolnshire unless there is significant rainfall in the next few weeks. Look North recently highlighted the problem in a special report and I was shocked to see that the chalk stream that runs through Scopwick is now a completely dry channel. The average daily maximum temperature was 7.90C which is close to the normal of 7.40C and the average daily minimum was 4.00C compared to the norm of 20C. We have had far fewer frosts than normal with only three nights in December dipping below freezing. The total rainfall for the month was 81.7 mm, less than the norm of 90.4.
I made another visit to the seals at Donna Nook in December to see how they had fared after the tidal surge had washed through them in November. It was a cold morning but the light for photography was excellent. All seemed to be calm in the colony but there were adults and pups to the north of the car park, outside the regular colony. Apparently these had been washed in from the beach colony. My brother accompanied me on this visit as he had not been to see them before. He found the spectacle totally awesome. By 18th December numbers in the colony were thinning out and the breeding season nearly over for another year. 1431 pups have been born this year and approximately 75 lost in the tidal surge.
During December I visited Worlaby for the short-eared owls on three occasions, the most productive being on the 1st of the month. In total I was able to observe 6 birds and had very close views. In one case two birds were sparring right above where I had parked my car and on another occasion one bird flew down the drain directly towards me whilst hunting, glaring at me with its bright yellow eyes as it flew past. It has also been rewarding to watch the large flocks of our largest winter thrush, the fieldfare, early in the month down here. As well as short-eared owls, the area is also a hotspot for other raptors and I have enjoyed watching and photographing the kestrels and it is always a delight to see the marsh harriers and buzzards hunting over the carr land. On another occasion I had a wonderful view of two buzzards hanging in the strong winds above Rothwell on a bitterly cold bike ride on 14th December. We had ridden out to enjoy an early Christmas lunch at The Blacksmith’s Arms – excellent! We had good views of a hunting sparrowhawk on the ride, as well, and the magnificent sunset lit up the heavily berried hawthorns and turned them a rich warm red in the last of the light.
During the month I have enjoyed a couple of visits to the feeding station at Bradley Woods to photograph the nuthatches. Early in the month autumn leaves were still falling like huge russet snowflakes, the oaks giving a late touch of colour to the woods. The nuthatches can be heard before they arrive at the food as their characteristic call echoes through the trees. They are fascinating to watch, but frustrating to photograph, as they run headfirst down the tree, usually on the opposite side to the observer, and it is anybody’s guess where they will pop out when they drop down to the food. They are like lightening too, so it is essential to have quick reactions when photographing them. I miss far more shots than I capture!!
Several visits have been made to my winter feeding station and already a female great spotted woodpecker is coming for the mix of lard and chopped peanuts I put out for them. I make this revolting mixture in our food processor, making sure that Heather is out at the time!! Again woodpeckers signal their approach with a strident, characteristic call giving time to focus on the stump on which they feed. The trick with photographing these birds is to get the picture before the beak is covered in pieces of fat in order to avoid too much post processing on the computer later. Although I have photographed woodpeckers many times, I still get excited by such close views of this magnificent bird.
Already by the middle of December hazel catkins or lamb’s tails were forming on the trees ready for the early spring and I noticed some very early snowdrops in flower on 11th of the month in a shady garden on Scartho Road. I have also seen gorse in flower on the M18 and it is a delight to see buzzards perched on trees and fence posts along the motorway – something I always had to wait for until the annual camping trip to France not so many years ago. On the last day of the month we were walking above Dovedale on a wet grey New Year’s Eve. This is always an excellent area to see herons and I was pleased to see the first drifting below us as it flew along the river. Later, on the walk back down the valley, we saw three of these birds sitting hunched and miserable looking, close to the river bank.