BOUGHTON PARK and WIERTON HILL FARM
After a cold, dry start to the year, it rapidly became unsettled and wet, with troughs of low pressure bringing exceptionally heavy rain to much of the country. Apart from a dry, sunny day on the 6th, the unsettled weather continued into the second week but by the 12th a zone of high pressure brought more settled cold conditions, with freezing temperatures and a little snow. From the 22nd troughs of low pressure brought more unsettled weather, with rain but little wind. A narrow ridge of high pressure then brought fine conditions for a day or two before more frontal systems, interspersed with further zones of high pressure, produced rain and stronger winds by the month’s end.
Rain delayed a two-hour visit, until mid-morning on the 31st, when a light drizzle fell from an overcast sky. It proved to be dominated by finches, with a peak of seven Lesser Redpolls back in the reservoir willowherb, two Greenfinches and a female Brambling in the Spindlewood copse, from which a Chaffinch sang just one phrase of song, a total of seven Goldfinches and a flock of some 25 Siskins in the marsh alders. In contrast to the 30th a total of just 34 Mallard was present, with one pair displaying, only one BH Gull visited the reservoir. However, a GS Woodpecker was attracted to Gary’s peanut feeder and a Coal plus two LT Tits flew from the lake pines.
Heavy overnight rain ceased before dawn and the southwest wind dropped during the four hour visit on the 30th, which was in dull conditions under an overcast sky. It was quite an eventful visit with a total of 42 Herring Gulls flying in southerly directions, including one flock of 23 SW. A flock of about 40 Chaffinches flew to and from the fallen apples in the Spindlewood orchard, among which a glimpse of a white rump confirmed that a Brambling was still present. A Little Owl called again from the same territory in the Deer Park. Both open waters attracted a greater variety of species, with four Greylag Geese and a pair of Tufted Duck on the reservoir and a duck Tufted Duck, two drake and a duck Teal and 37 Mallard on the lake, with a flock of some 20 Siskins in the alders. Also, a Treecreeper sang from the alder copse again.
It was dull and overcast on the 29th, with a moderate – strong southwest wind and light rain towards the end of the three-hour visit. Of interest was a Buzzard flying W over the reservoir, mobbed by three Carrion Crows, and a lone adult male Siskin at the southern end of the rarity hedge, which also held two Greenfinches. Passerine numbers were generally low, apart from a tight flock of about 100 Starlings flying in and out of the reservoir orchard. Also, a flock of 85 Jackdaws rose out of the Deer Park – counted on a photograph – and it was pleasing to see an adult male Kestrel again, as sightings have been relatively few this month.
By way of contrast, the 28th was still, virtually cloudless, with a light frost at 0°C rising to 5°C at the end of three hours. For a change, a duck Tufted Duck was present on the reservoir, with the resident GC Grebe and a lone BH Gull. A Deer Park Buzzard was heard and seen and a second bird circled over Bishop’s Wood for a while. A pair of Collared Doves was present by Bishop’s Wood and a third near Spindlewood. A Goldcrest was seen in the spruce copse and a Treecreeper sang again from the alder copse.
After more overnight rain, the 27th was miserably damp and dull, with a moderate strength southwesterly. Not surprisingly little of interest was seen, apart from a hen Sparrowhawk, which flew SW over the Spindlewood orchard. A drake Tufted Duck had returned to the reservoir, no flyover species were seen and just 23 species were noted in the two hours.
The 26th saw variable cloud being blown NE on an increasingly strong wind, with early sunny periods slowly disappearing. Bob saw the star species, as a male Peregrine flew NW over the reservoir towards the Deer Park, disturbing numerous winter thrushes and some 120 Starlings – counted on photographs taken later. Otherwise it proved to be a quiet three-hour visit, though a pair of Greylag Geese visited the reservoir. I saw a male Kestrel and my first LT Tits for ten days.
It was mild bright and sunny on the 25th, with little wind and the highlight of a relatively quiet visit was seeing two Ravens flying E along the Greensand Ridge above Wierton Hill Farm. They simply dwarfed the Jackdaws pestering them. A Little Owl called from near a traditional nesting territory in the Deer Park, two and one Goldcrests were seen but finches were scarce.
After overnight rain, it was dull, overcast, still and unusually mild at 10° – 11°C on the 24th. A drake Tufted Duck was present on the reservoir, another Cormorant flew NE but the three-hour visit was otherwise uneventful, though a total of six Greenfinches was noted north and south of the Spindlewood orchard, a Coal Tit and Goldcrest were also seen. However, it was surprising to see a few plum trees blossoming.
Dense mist marred the visit on the 23rd, when visibility failed to improve but a Tawny Owl hooted in the northwest corner and a Little Owl called from within the Deer Park. Four species were heard singing, including a Mistle Thrush, the wintering Chiffchaff was seen again, along the northern edge of the reservoir orchard, and a Goldcrest fed in the rarity hedge. A Grey Heron flew from beside the lake, where some 20 Mallard and a Coot were present; a second Coot was still at the reservoir, with three Lesser Redpolls nearby and seven Siskins flew from the marsh alders.
A frontal system brought a change on the 22nd, which was overcast and dull, with light rain from mid-visit but the eastern sky was a picture again. The hen Reed Bunting was still present, one Cormorant flew SE and another five circled around the reservoir for a time before dropping down. A total of five Herring Gulls flew over, two single Goldcrests were seen and with the open waters ice-free there was an increase to 13 Mallard on the reservoir, where a Coot was also present, and another 20 Mallard on the lake.
The 21st commenced with a stunning red sky, it remained mainly overcast and still, the temperature rising from zero to 5°C at the end of a three-hour visit. The partly frozen reservoir came up trumps with the first Common Snipe of the year, my first here since September 2013! The Kingfisher was present again, along with six Lesser Redpolls and a hen Reed Bunting. Bob also added the first Mute Swan of the year, an immature bird, which paid too brief a visit to the reservoir for me to see it. He also saw eight Cormorants fly E. Later, one flew from the reservoir and a few singles were seen flying over over. The lake was totally frozen and only six Mallard remained. A flock of at least 20 Siskins fed in the marsh alders again, as did a Treecreeper. A Buzzard called from the Deer Park and another flew W over the poplar wood.
The visit on the 20th was under a mainly clear sky, still and very cold at -5°C, with another hard frost. The reservoir was frozen patchily, the lake almost entirely and there 12 Mallard waddled across the ice. The visit started well with a Kingfisher by the reservoir – my 60th species for the year. Six Lesser Redpolls and a hen Reed Bunting were also present. A Cormorant circled over and disappeared S, a Chiffchaff made another appearance in the rarity hedge, where a Goldcrest was also seen.
There was a particularly hard frost on the 19th, which was still with high cloud clearing by late morning, after revealing an attractive eastern sky. The banks of the reservoir hosted two female Bullfinches and another called, two hen Reed Buntings and five Lesser Redpolls were present. No flyover species were seen and only relatively small numbers of passerines were noted, apart from a flock of 57 Starlings perched and photographed. Over half the lake as frozen and only a dozen Mallard were seen there.
It was overcast on the 18th, with a cold southeasterly breeze and a vivid streak of red across the dawn sky. The visit was uneventful, apart from a northerly movement of Starlings, including flocks of 30 and 70 plus, and another of just 13 later. A Treecreeper was heard singing again, no other species sang, a Goldcrest was seen feeding in the nearby marsh alders and one of the fisherman friendly Robins perched close to.
Only a ninety-minute late morning visit was possible on the 17th, following a winter survey at Great Chittenden Farm. It was overcast and still, with a light sprinkling of snow at dawn. It proved productive, with two firsts for the year, when three pairs of extremely flighty Teal were eventually seen flying from the lake, and three House Sparrows, two cocks and a hen, were seen in the Spindlewood hedge. A hen Kestrel, perched near the reservoir, was only my second sighting this year. Earlier, Bob had seen 11 Teal fly from the reservoir, return and fly off again. He also saw his first Brambling of the year.
The 16th was almost cloudless and still, with the temperature just below zero and the lake partially frozen. Only an hour-long visit was possible, during which a Treecreeper was seen again and another heard singing. Also, a party of 12 Herring Gulls flew NW and two S.
On the 15th, there was a light frost and the temperature only rose from 1° – 3°C during the two hour visit and it felt colder in the northwesterly wind, even though the sun shone frequently. For once there were no additions to the census list but a hen Reed Bunting was still there and I did see another Treecreeper, which was singing again.
I made a three-hour visit later in the morning on the 13th, which proved rewarding in the dry, bright conditions, when Bob joined me for a while. Four Lesser Redpolls were seen by the reservoir again and along the rarity hedge a Goldcrest appeared, followed a short while later by a/the wintering Chiffchaff – the last sighting was there on Nov 12th. A Coal Tit visited the Spindlewood feeders and a total of five Herring Gulls flew in a southerly direction. Two Coot were present on the lake and finally, at the southern end of the marsh, a flock of 24 Siskins was feeding in the alders.
The visit on the 12th was very short, involving circuits of the reservoir and lake under a cloudless sky, with a light frost. A lone Cormorant circling over the reservoir was the only noteworthy event and not one finch was seen or heard before I departed at 8.15 am.
Heavy rain prevented an early start on the 11th and a two-hour visit commenced after nine, when there were variable patches of blue in the overcast sky plus a light shower. It was a quiet visit, with one BH Gull at the reservoir and three Herring Gulls SW, not one Green Woodpecker was heard but two Great Spots called. Three Lesser Redpolls were present again and two Greenfinches were seen near Spindlewood.
Heavy overnight rain ceased, as I arrived on the 10th. The brief visit was in the dry until later in the morning. I enjoyed watching a Tawny Owl hooting from its perch in the northwest corner before dawn but there was little else of interest.
A dramatic sky greeted me at dawn. It was dry until mid-morning on the 9th, after which there were showers. Something disturbed the winter thrushes and a flock of at least 50 Starlings, but against the dark background it remained invisible. At least five Lesser Redpolls, five LT Tits and a Goldcrest were present near the reservoir. Twenty Rooks visited Bishop’s Wood and a Collared Dove flew NE. The 30 or more Chaffinches in the Spindlewood orchard were active and difficult to see, but it was interesting to see two LBB Gulls flying SW, an early addition for the year. A Buzzard flew over the Deer Park.
It was still, cloudless and frosty, with the temperature at zero on the 8th. It proved to be a worthwhile visit, with just two Lesser Redpolls but a tight flock of 41 Starlings had been disturbed by a male Sparrowhawk, my first and 50th species for the year, as it flew S. The Chaffinch flock had disappeared and I only saw three! However, I did see the first Coal Tit of the year, in trees by the graveyard extension and there were two Coot back on the lake.
With steady rain falling, the visit on the 7th didn’t commence until nearly 10am, as light rain ceased. During the two-and-a-half-hour visit it became bright, with sunny periods but a moderate to strong SW wind rose and further rain fell. Two drake Tufted Duck visited the reservoir, where a Coot was also present, a Grey Heron flew SE and six Lesser Redpolls fed on the Rosebay Willowherb again. At least 80 Chaffinches, probably closer to 100, flew between the fallen apples and the rarity hedge, allowing some chance to look more closely at them and I was rewarded by finding a pair of Bramblings, the first of the year.
There was a welcome change in the weather for the 6th, dry and still, with sunny breaks. After the previous day’s peak count of Chaffinches, just 32 were noted. Of most interest was hearing a Treecreeper singing. Three different Goldcrests were also seen, nothing was seen flying over, in the still conditions, but a fisherman said that a Cormorant had visited the Reservoir.
In complete contrast there was little to report on the 5th, with variable cloud cover and heavy showers. Just 25 species were noted and of most interest was finding a winter peak of 75 Chaffinches flying to and from the rarity hedge but I failed to hear or see a Brambling. Also a flock of about 70 Jackdaws flew into the Deer Park from the south.
The weather on the 4th was very variable, with little wind, from an overcast sky to large patches of blue, a few showers, with little wind and a temperature rising form 4° – 9°C. Three Herring, one Common and a BH Gull flew S and another three Herring Gulls NW. A Cormorant flew E but it was the variety of finches that provided more interest, with five Lesser Redpolls again by the reservoir, with two Goldfinches and a cock Bullfiinch, with two Greenfinches in the spruce copse. Two separate Treecreepers were also seen near the lake, along with a Goldcrest. A Little Owl, such a scarcity now-a-days, called from the Deer Park, east of the lake. I also added a male Kestrel to my patch list.
I managed to fit in an unproductive two-hour visit on the 3rd, before light showers fell. On my return to the reservoir, there was an irruption of maybe 200 birds, including some 70 Starlings, numerous Fieldfares, a number of Redwings and Chaffinches, presumably disturbed by a Sparrowhawk, which remained invisible.
The 2nd was overcast, with a light to moderate southeast wind, with occasional light showers. Bob arrived at the reservoir shortly before I did; the drake Tufted Duck had returned and he had a glimpse of a Kingfisher streaking through, a pair of Wigeon circling over and a Herring Gull flying SW – four species I’d not seen on the 1st. Fortunately, the pair of Wigeon returned and alighted later but I didn’t have my camera, and I saw two Herring Gulls flying S, as I completed my two-and-a-half-hour visit. I saw three parties comprising nine, seven and three LT Tits and two separate Goldcrests seen but very few finches were noted.
At 1°C, it was still, with a hard frost on the 1st, under a cloudless sky but high cloud soon drifted over and for a short while a cold east wind blew. In the northwest corner, at 7am, a Pheasant called first, I was then pleased to hear two Tawny Owls hooting, followed by a Carrion Crow and a snatch of song from a Robin. At the Peens Lane corner, a Song Thrush sang, Moorhen, Mallard, Blackbird and Mistle Thrush were all heard calling. I then parked in the fisherman’s car park, where I heard Fieldfares and a Magpie calling, a Dunnock sang and the GC Grebe could just be seen on the reservoir, over which a low-lying mist rapidly developed. I heard calls from Redwing, Green Woodpecker, Rook and Wren but in the poor visibility spent a short while in the neighbouring shaw. Here I added Goldfinch, Woodpigeon, Great and Blue Tits and overhead a party of seven Cormorants flew E. Along the north bank of the reservoir I added a real bonus for the day, three Lesser Redpolls were feeding on Rosebay Willowherb. A BH Gull flew onto the reservoir, several Jackdaws flew from the trees, a Goldcrest flitted in front of me as I turned into the poplar wood, where I only added a GS Woodpecker. Gary’s feeders attracted a Nuthatch and a lone LT Tit – I saw a flock of seven later. A Collared Dove called again from the Spindlewood corner and a few Chaffinches flew from the rarity hedge. As I approached the northern edge of the orchard, a passerine, which flew into the top of the walnut tree, turned out to be a totally unexpected Yellowhammer, the first since a few sightings in July. The day was looking extremely promising and I soon added Jay and Starling before entering the Deer Park, where nothing was added, until I reached the spruce coppice, from which I heard a Buzzard call before catching a glimpse of a Treecreeper, as it alighted on an oak and a Greenfinch called but there was no sign of a Coal Tit, one of five species that I’d hope to see. Shortly before 11am I saw the Coot on the lake but there was no sign of the Tufted Duck, there or on the reservoir. I eventually saw three Stock Doves flying over and as I left the Deer Park a Grey Heron flew E, the fortieth species. At least hree Siskins were still present in the marsh alders and at the southern end of the poplar wood a Bullfinch or two called. I was in for another surprise as I walked back along the reservoir bank, another unexpected species, a Skylark flew low SW, my first since early October. A total of 43 species was extremely pleasing and the other species missed included Sparrowhawk, Kestrel and Herring Gull.