Winter Magic

January 26, 2013 at 8:52 pm

During the week we have had fantastic Winter weather culminating with a snow cover of eight inches this morning. Everyday I have been searching for wild life, mostly close to home, having encountered one Woodcock, twenty four Snipe and ten Jack Snipe. Best of all was the close encounter with one of the Jack Snipe, only the third I have managed to film in forty four years. The tiny wader froze as I filmed through the snow from only ten feet away. The photo shows the stripes down its back and even the purple iridescence shows up. It was an absolute gem and certainly the Holy Grail of the Winter bird world.

Since November we have never had less than twenty species of birds feeding, per day, in the garden. With the deep snow cover on the twenty sixth we were to put the garden record on the shelf for ever. All the common species fed plus Willow Tit, Reed Buntings, two Song Thrushes then two male Blackcaps chasing each other. A Grey Wagtail fed in the outside grate for the third time this week. Two Redwings arrived in the sycamore at the rear of the garden as a Mistle Thrush fed on a cotoneaster in the front garden. At 3pm, from nowhere, a Fieldfare dropped in and ate one and a half apples in fifty minutes. This was the fifth thrush species of the day and the twenty seventh different species to feed in the garden on the 26th. The January total now is an incredible thirty different species.

On the 24th I was pleased to watch five Waxwings feeding in Bury. There are now only a few left in the country and I hope that these five will not be my last sighting of the Winter.

Winter Strikes

January 20, 2013 at 11:44 am

How ironic that after featuring a Woodcock in the garden on my blog of two weeks ago one should fly up from under our hedge on 18th January. This bird was of course a truly wild bird sheltering from the freezing South East wind and was a first for the garden. It was a perfect start to a day that produced a record twenty four species in the garden including the male Blackcap featured on the blog today. There was also a record five Jays feeding together that day and the appearance of thirteen Starlings and our regular ten Long Tailed Tits.

Hopwood has been exceptional this last week and on the fourteenth, as the snow fell, thirty Reed Buntings were roosting in the long grasses together with twenty two Snipe that were also sheltering from the blizzard. Two days later two Jack Snipe were feeding plus a scattering of Woodcock. Even two Goldcrest were present one day in a Scots pine at dusk.

The sixteenth of January produced the only sunshine of the week so I ventured on to the high moorlands looking for Mountain Hares. At 10am when I parked the car it was -3°C and with a brisk wind the chill factor would have made it closer to -15°C. I walked for two hours in the frost and powder snow and saw four Mountain Hares from a distance but never took the camera out of its case. There was much evidence of where the hares had dug down through the snow to reach the heather and grasses on which they feed nocturnally. I hope to go again on a better day!

Sun At Last

January 13, 2013 at 12:51 pm

Today the 12th is the first day this year that we have had some decent sunshine. Earlier in the week, with the mild weather, both Song Thrush and Mistle Thrush were in full song.

On Hopwood Woodcock are still being seen and I flushed only my second Jack Snipe of the Winter along one of the fairways on the golf course. Scarlet Elf Cup fungi was out in a small copse of trees nearby.

With lots of fog this week the garden has, once again, come into its own. Long Tailed Tits have been every day and peaked at seventeen on the 9th. A new bird for the Winter was a male Blackcap feeding on a fat square – only the second we have ever had in the garden. Three different male Sparrowhawks have hunted the garden during the week with one clipping the back of my head as I put the food out. A Blackbird was rescued from the talon’s of one of these males but another did not fair as well. A redwing even roosted one night in the only pine tree in the garden – a tree that thirty years ago was covered in Christmas baubles inside the house!.

New Year Wish

January 6, 2013 at 8:18 pm

A Woodcock in your garden would be high on most peoples New Year wish list. The one in this week’s photo is in my garden but the circumstances surrounding its arrival are not what you would expect. I was walking through Hopwood woods when a Carrion Crow and a Magpie that were attacking something on the ground caught my attention. I was just in time to save the Woodcock that had some feathers plucked from its breast but otherwise it was in tact and should have been able to fly. To save it from the Crows I brought it home and placed it in the garden vegetation while it recovered , then returned it to the woods at dusk when the crows had gone to roost and it was safe. I was pleased to see it fly off and my first good deed of the year was complete. However, the story does not end there. Several days later,as I walked through the woods, I noticed the remains of at least two Woodcock that had been predated as they roosted at the base of Silver Birch trees under a canopy of bracken. Had the crows discovered how to catch Woodcock at their diurnal roost sites or was the culprit a Fox and the crows were just finishing off the job? My encounter with just two crows and no sighting of a Fox would suggest that the crows were the culprits. As Hopwood Woods are the most important wintering site in Greater Manchester for Woodcock this would be a worrying trend especially when recent satellite tracking has proved that some of our wintering Woodcock have travelled more than 4000 kilometres from Russia. In the late 1970’s I caught and ringed one Woodcock in Hopwood Woods. The following year it was killed by a car as it was flying across a road in Belgium!

During last month we had more than twenty species of bird in the garden on every single day. On New Years Day a record twenty two Long Tailed Tits fed together.