January 2012

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Although winter has finally kicked in with extremely cold weather (-100C in our garden but -140C in the Wolds) and snow over the last couple of weeks, January continued to be mild, with an average daytime temperature of 9.20C compared to the expected 6.60C and a mean night time temperature of 3.60C compared to the average of 1.10C. Rainfall was slightly higher than the average for January with a total of 124.6 mm, however, 80mm of this fell on the 4th January when we experienced several torrential downpours. This meant that wildlife continued to find life relatively easy and made little use of our garden feeders. Plants such as geraniums continued to survive in our garden, although that came to an end this month with a vengeance!! Snowdrops were well underway in January and I saw my first daffodil in flower on 18th January and by this time aconites and crocuses were also beginning to appear. Hazel catkins or lambs’ tails, which had been partially formed but still dormant in December, were opening fully with the mild weather.
On the weekend of 6th – 8th January we joined my brother and his wife for a weekend in the Lake District to help celebrate his 60th birthday. Although not blessed with fine weather, we still managed to get out and walk. By the river in the valley of St. John’s in the Vale we enjoyed views of dipper and gooseander, while three buzzards soared overhead, skilfully riding the gale force winds over High Rigg. The next day saw even worse weather and kept us to the valley bottom but we did walk through Dodd Wood to the osprey viewing centre. Although the ospreys are not present at this time of the year, the feeding station was a hive of activity with chaffinches and of tits seeming to fall out of the air almost like snowflakes onto the food put out for them on tree stumps. We were also delighted to watch a red squirrel, always a good find.
During January I have had several photography sessions at my winter feeding station at Lindsey Tree Services woodyard. All the usual suspects have been visiting the feeders and it is pleasing to see greenfinches in good numbers in view of the virus that has affected them over the past couple of years. It is always good practice to regularly clean garden feeders to help stop the spread of this disease. It is good to see the woodpeckers coming to the fat that I put out for them and I have captured several pleasing images already this year.
Another favourite haunt of mine during January was Worlaby Carrs where again numbers and sightings of short-eared owls have been plentiful. Watching and photographing them, however, is a frustrating business as some days they are out early and give close views but other days can be a complete blank for no particular reason. It is always wonderful to be out, though, and the area is excellent for other raptors. I have had great enjoyment from watching buzzards and marsh harriers quartering the carr land with kestrels hovering above and even posing on fence posts for photographs. It feels beautifully remote down there and it can be silent, the only sound being the wind and the occasional train. It is just possible from here to see the spring line villages of the north Wolds tucked into the hillside with the bare trees and fields of the winter landscape behind. On a mild January day it felt positively spring like in the warm winter sun.
One January morning saw me at first light parked up high above Worlaby with the church peeping out of the trees below as I waited for the sunrise in order to capture some landscape shots for my photography degree work. I couldn’t believe my luck when I realised that the whole of the Ancholme valley was covered in a blanket of low mist. Absolutely magical and a reminder of why I drag myself out of bed before daybreak. From here I made my way to Far Ings to photograph the bullfinches which I knew to be there. I didn’t have to go far before I came across them and was surprised to find up to a dozen, nearly all males. This was unusual, because, in my experience, they are normally seen as a just a pair of birds. On another day I failed to connect with the bullfinches so decided to have an hour in the Ness Hide. I was amazed when some bird watchers pointed out two bitterns secreted in the reeds on the far side of the lake. They took some finding, however, as they are superbly well camouflaged. I have known occasions when I have been looking straight at one of these birds but couldn’t see it at all until it moved. Not long after I arrived one bird flew over the lake towards the hide but unfortunately it disappeared into the reeds, never to be seen again. This bird was soon followed by the other but this time it settled in the reeds at the end of an open channel in front of the hide. Although invisible, I knew where it was as it was moving the reeds. Soon it slowly walked out and across the channel allowing for photography. What an experience!! I count myself lucky to see one bittern at a time but to see two and get photographs was a double bonus.
Perhaps the highlight of January for me, though, was a visit to Scarborough to watch and photograph the peregrine falcons that are resident there. We arrived by 9.00 am and soon caught up with these remarkable raptors by looking for the birdwatchers. Once rare, peregrines, among other birds of prey, suffered from persecution as well as dying from the organochlorines that were used in farming and which found their way into the food chain. Perhaps the biggest single change in conservation in this country came when certain pesticides were outlawed in the 1960s. The real victims of the pesticides were birds of prey: as the poisons built up in the ecosystem, our best species were driven to the edge of extinction. Their recovery is one of the glories of 21st century Britain. Now, one of the best places to see peregrines is on or churches and cathedrals, where the buildings mimic their natural cliff habitat and the associated pigeon population makes for a ready food supply. Once found we enjoyed an amazing couple of hours watching and photographing our Scarborough birds. To see one close its wings and dive at incredible speeds as it stoops on its prey is something else. Should you be in Scarborough you want to be on the Marine Drive at lamp post 54. I understand the RSPB have an information point there in the breeding season as they do at Lincoln Cathedral.