A mix of winter and spring at the equinox

After a bit of work this morning, I headed out to make the most of the nice weather and went to one of the local birdwatching spots.  Sandwich Flashes are a series of lakes and wetlands between Crewe and Sandwich, formed by subsidence caused by the solution of underlying salt deposits.  I occasionally pay a visit if I have a spare hour or two on an unplanned Saturday or Sunday and can usually get a good bird list of 40 or more species, depending on the time of year.  It’s usually a focus of more seasoned birdwatchers, birders and twitchers but it’s also good for less persistent observers of birds like me.


Despite the unexpectedly fine weather with a warm sun out of the cool breeze, the birdlife was as much of winter than of spring.  The waterbirds, such as wigeon and teal, that have stayed over the colder months have yet all to leave and the winter thrushes (redwings and fieldfares, are still about in goof numbers (and I’ve seen good flocks elsewhere too).

However, the calls of the breeding residents are growing stronger and pairing behaviour is becoming more obvious – the roving tit flocks have now broken up and the long-tailed tits are moving around in twos; no longer in the merry bands that pass swiftly and noisily by.  The hedgerows are also showing signs of new life with the hawthorns breaking out into leaf.

The most spring-like of all signs I noticed today were the very tentative and quiet first calls of a chiffchaff; not the full call of the height of spring but a sure sign that the new season is here.

Spring has sprung!

I spent today with Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers on another task at Wybunbury Moss working for Natural England.  Heading out this morning, it felt that finally spring is here, with a clear blue sky, strengthening warmth from the sun and birds starting to sing at the top of their voices.


However, the task today was still very much a winter one, with more trees to fell and burn.  The task we have been doing for the last two visits has been focussed on softening an area of woodland edge by removing some of the smaller trees. This should encourage regrowth of the understory which should in turn provide improved habitats for scrub nesting birds.  After working in the same area last year, the signs of this regrowth are already there.


With bird nesting season upon us, this could have been the last fire until autumn, a pity as I enjoy them so much, but having a fire in the sun does seem a bit wrong. At the end of what has seemed like a long, dark winter, I’ll quite happily swap having fires for more nice, warm sunny days!


From Spring into Winter and (Almost) Back Again

There’s mist over the land as I head out on a welcome journey not done since the height of last summer (if there was a ‘height’). The roads are quiet and I make good time as the hazy sun brightens the countryside around. There are signs of spring along my route; daffodils and snowdrops at the roadside and the hawthorn hedges starting to burst new leaves. There’s also new life in the fields with the first of the lambs out in the low-lying pastures; the grass just starting to turning a richer green.

As the border is crossed and the road rises into the hills, the initial optimism for another rich early-season day falls away as the clouds draw over the longed-for sun and darkness covers the route ahead. It’s soon that I’m passing the reservoir and the first drops of fine rain need to be cleared from my windscreen but the high moorland route still beckons and I increase the pace once turned at the junction. The gloom is even deeper up here and my journey is slowed, lowland mist now upland fog. As I descend into the enclosed valleys, hopes are dashed that dropping out of the cloud will bring a halt to the fine but blanketing rain. There are no signs of brightness across the damp pastureland that divides the mountains and the sea; water lying in the fields are sure signs that these are familiar conditions.

After a break in my journey I eventually make my way down the track in the secluded wooded valley. In the trees and out in the damp water-logged pastureland, spring still seems to be a distant thought, the signs of the new season present in the lowlands yet to appear here. Whilst the birdsong has more strength, it is subdued by the weather and there seems little to sing for with water clinging to every tree, rock and blade of grass.

There may be few signs of spring in the valley but it is on its way and so is a wave of avian visitors, sweeping slowly northwards from warmer lands. Amongst them, hopefully, will be two pairs of wings, returning to an old nest high up in the fir tree copse out in the centre of the damp fields. With them are the hopes of a growing band of followers, hopes of a return of an old favourite and her new partner, and hopes of slightly less drama than last year.

There is something very familiar about the text above, not just the journey but the weather pattern too. I made the same first trip to the Glaslyn Valley this time last year with signs of spring at home but the weather then enclosing as I made my way towards Snowdonia. The only difference this time was that on my return journey the bad weather had spread into the lowlands too.

The trip was made for the training day for the volunteers with Bywyd Gwyllt Glaslyn Wildlife; this is the community group that took over the Glaslyn Osprey Project from the RSPB in 2014. This will be fifth season that I’ve volunteered at the ‘Protection Site’ where the osprey nest is monitored to stop thieves stealing the eggs. Volunteers also help to prevent disturbance of the birds by walkers on the public footpath that passes close to the nest.

2015 was an osprey rollercoaster by previous standards. There had been the same pair of birds using Glaslyn nest for over a decade but last year the male failed to return and the female was left waiting at the nest. Over the following weeks there was a succession of males trying to mate with her but it was the third that finally settled down with her and managed to raise two healthy chicks which migrated south at the end of the summer.

Last year saw great strides forward by the group including a new visitor centre and video streaming from nest cameras going live on the internet towards the end of the season. Hopefully, the cameras will be live on the website soon and this year the whole breeding season can be watched from the comfort of my own sofa (or desk at work for that matter!).

Live streaming is expensive to run, particularly from such a remote location and it costs thousands of pounds each year and the equipment will need replacing from time to time. Therefore, an appeal has been launched to raise funds to pay for this year’s live streaming and to contribute towards replacement equipment when it is needed in due course. The details of the appeal can be found here.

That trip really marked the start of my spring of conservation volunteering which will also include bird surveys, practical land management tasks and maybe some other nest protection work, but sitting in the quiet of the Protection Site ‘spy cave’ watching over the ospreys really is a highlight – can’t wait for my next trip down that wooded track.

The look of spring; the touch of winter

Working from home yesterday afternoon, I couldn’t help but be tempted to go for a wander around my local patch at sunset.  It had been the first gloriously bright and almost cloudless day I could remember for a long time so I had to take advantage of the last bit of light.

The sky and light conditions were very springlike looking out of the window but as soon as I set foot outside, winter was in the air.  At around 5 degrees celsius, it certainly didn’t feel like spring and as I made my way out into the fields, the ground conditions showed it wasn’t either.  After recent rains, the fields were saturated and my wellies became heavier and heavier as more mud clung to them.

There were other signs that spring in the fields has yet appear – the trees were still skeletal in their lack of leaves and the collection of birds I saw had a wintry touch.  There was a large flock of redwings and fieldfares, our visitors from Scandinavia for the colder months of the year, noisily making it’s way through the trees and bushes as I wandered along the footpaths.

I took a few shots as I walked around the fields.  I wouldn’t say my local patch is particularly blessed with great beauty but in the fading light of last evening, it looked at its best.


A Nose for snow

I spent a few hours today at Tegg’s Nose Country Park taking advantage of the snow to try out my new camera…

With the mild winter we’ve had, I didn’t expect to get any snow photos and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.  It was slightly strange driving from early spring at home into winter in the hills and I took other photos looking from the hills towards a green Cheshire Plain. However, the birds up there also seem to be in a spring-likee mood with plenty of singing in the woods and valleys.

There are rumours that the weather is to remain cold all the way into April so there might be more chances to take a shot worthy of my next Christmas card!