2022 was quite a good year for me in terms of seeing new birds and mammals. Helped significantly by a trip to Zambia, I added 34 birds to my list with only two of those being in the UK (smew and jack snipe). This took me over the 500 birds mark and adding 14 new mammals took that list to over 100.
After look at a local bird blog this morning we knew there was a possibility of a first new bird of the year at nearby Ravensthorpe Reservoir. Having had a walked there last weekend we went elsewhere for a bit of a wander first but on the way home stopped at the reservoir car park for a quick look to see if the bird was there. Amongst all the other ducks, including the similar-looking female tufted ducks, was a female ring-necked duck. This might have been a vagrant from North America or, just as likely an escapee from a collection, but I’m still going to count it.
After seeing reports of owl sightings in the countryside beyond a nearby village, we headed out there late on Sunday afternoon to see if we could locate any. The frost of earlier was still clinging on in shady areas where the winter sun was unable to reach but where the ground had thawed, the footpath we walked along became increasingly muddy. As the sun started to dip, a mist started to rise up from the cold wet ground, shrouding some of the fields.
The low rolling countryside in the Brampton Valley, with large arable fields and low hedges, has quite a few areas set aside for wildlife, with margins left uncultivated and areas sewn for winter bird food. We scanned a few of these areas with our binoculars in hope of seeing the owls but even with their longer grass, perfect for small mammals, we didn’t see anything on the outward leg of our walk. We did see, however, a good number of lapwing in some of the open fields, a bird we haven’t seen much of in the valley before.
On the homeward leg, we had almost given up hope of seeing any owls but as we neared the end we caught sight of another nocturnal animal instead. In the growing gloom of dusk, a fox wandered across an open field and into a small copse. We then noticed at the far side of the same field, a muntjac feeding in the field margin. Just as we turned to walk the last few hundred metres, a white bird appeared in the distance and looped around another small copse, disappearing at one end and reappearing at the other. The barn owl did one more loop of the copse and then flew off into the field behind, not to be seen again.
January has been a good month for owls. At the Nene Washes we saw both short-eared and long-eared owls, while at the same location, as well as Welney and now closer to home, we’ve had good views of barn owl. Having said that, the tawny owls at have been very quiet in the trees surrounding our house over recent weeks but as winter comes to an end, hopefully we will start to here them again as well the little owls we often hear in the spring.
This morning we woke to a bright but sub-zero, frosty and misty Sunday morning. Instead of saying inside in the warm we decided to go for a walk around one of the nearby reservoirs; Ravensthorpe.
With a haze over the sun, what warmth there was from above didn’t melt the ice and our hour-long walk was surrounded in crystal. What can be a very muddy loop around the lake was instead solid as the ground remained frozen for all but last little stretch.
Usually, a visit to Ravensthorpe means looking for waterbirds but today we spent much more time taking photos of the scenes, both landscapes and up close. That’s not to say we didn’t see quite a lot of birds and there seemed to be a gathering of great crested grebes. While on the water they seems to be the essence of elegance but up in the air, they seem odd and awkward but a view of them we don’t seem to have very often.
Last January we spent a day at the Nene Washes in Cambridgeshire and were amazed by the wildlife we saw. So, today we decided to take another trip across from Northamptonshire to see if it would be as good for a second time.
Well, we weren’t disappointed!
As soon as we arrived, we could see a few groups of people with cameras and scopes peering into some bushes. As we walked up we almost immediately saw a short-eared owl perched with a clear view in the front of a bush. A little further on there was a long-eared owl in another bush, although much harder to see as (my digi-scoping, as shown below, doesn’t improve). There were four long-eared owls altogether in the areas.
A little further down the embankment we tried to see a tawny owl in a large hole in an old tree but it wasn’t visible at all but as we turned back we had great views of a barn owl hunting over the tussocky grass.
We then spent a little while looking over the huge embankment-bounded flood plain of the River Nene and saw plenty of other birds including massed swirling flocks of wigeon, lapwing and golden plover. There were other raptors in the area including buzzard, kestrel, red kite and a mash harrier but we missed the hen harrier that had been seen earlier in the day. The other highlight for us was the sight of more than a dozen common cranes amongst the wildfowl flocks.
The Nene Washes really is a great place for winter wildlife and we might have stayed longer but for the strong, freezing wind. We had similar weather last year so hopefully next time it might be a little kinder to us.
This post could almost mirror a similar one I did in late January last year after a walk around one of our nearest nature reserves. After spending most of yesterday doing household chores, it seemed a waste of a weekend not to go for a walk somewhere. We did wonder whether we should head out today as the weather looked pretty awful, with wind and rain forecast but, actually, we had a dry visit to Summer Leys, although the wind was both strong and cold.
So many of the nature reserves in Northamptonshire are wetland, with the Nene Valley lying across the country as well as the area being dotted with reservoirs, both small and large. This gives the reserves two very distinct sets of wildlife with large congregations of wildfowl and waders in the autumn and winter months and visiting migrants taking advantage of the varied watery habitats in the spring and summer.
In January, Summer Leys is right in the middle of its big wildfowl and wader winter. We saw large groups of a range of ducks, particularly mallard, teal, wigeon, pochard and gadwall, as well as some nice spinning groups of shovelers and a few goldeneye. Just as last year, there were also flocks of lapwing and golden plover constantly being put up but we didn’t see what by.
We spent a little time at the bird feeding station and saw our first bullfinches of the year and we were told there was a yellow-browed warbler nearby, but we failed to see what would have been a first for us. We finished our walk having seen 40 species of birds in a walk of a little over an hour.
Whilst this time of year isn’t my favourite, the long, cold and dark nights seemingly stretching on into the far distance but there are some real wildlife spectacles to see, even relatively close to my doorstep. Summer Leys so far this winter has provided both starling murmurations and wildfowl congregations and perhaps there will be time left for another visit this season to see what else it can conjure up.
With a day to spare between getting home from our New Year trip to Devon and returning to work, we did plan to go on one of our favourite local walks. However, the weather was pretty awful so we spent the morning de-Christmasing the house. The afternoon looked little better but with the rest of the week likely to be spent working in my office at home (due to the train strikes), I decided I had to get out of the house, even it is was for a short while. We’re lucky to have Pitsford Reservoir about a ten minute drive away and it’s our nearest nature reserve, With a gap in the rain, I jumped in the car and headed that way.
After all the hot weather and the drought over the summer, the water has been very low, even with significant local rainfall over the course of the autumn. However, on my first trip to the shores this year, the water is now back up to its high winter levels. This means that there is now very little exposed mud around the lake therefore little space for waders to feed; I saw only a handful of lapwing on my short walk.
On the other hand, the wildfowl are at very large numbers around the site and they gave me a good start to my year list of birds I’ve seen. There were good numbers of wigeon, mallard, teal, gadwall, tufted duck, and great crested grebe alongside smaller numbers of pochard. Thankfully, I didn’t see any signs of avian influenza; last time I counted 11 dead mute swans around the lake edge but I saw none today.
Elsewhere away from the water, there we plenty of fieldfares and redwings alongside groups of finches, tits and yellowhammers as well as tree sparrows in their usual place at the bottom of the track down from the main road to the western shore. Overall, I added 33 birds to my year list, not bad for an hour’s wander along the short of Scaldwell Bay.
The two images below are the same spot in the bay, looking from the Bird Club Hide, taken just over three weeks apart; the lower and partly frozen water in the first compared to the much higher water levels in the second.
I woke this morning feeling a little more fresh than I expected after a late New Year’s Eve night. The first walk of the year was along the coast path around Prawle Point in Devon. After the storms we’ve been having over the last few days, keeping us inside much of the time, iT was great to be out and to see the size of the waves coming into shore…
Now that one year has turned to another, it’s time to start looking forward to what the next 12 months may bring. Last year was so great for us (see previous post) that 2023 could easily look like it’s going to be a bit of an anticlimax of a year. However, I’m trying hard not to look at it like that.
We’ve started the year down in Devon staying with a group of friends in a holiday home nestled in the folds of land above Slapton. We then seem to have a long gap waiting for the spring to arrive and the light to return to the evenings. First, however, we’re planning a long weekend away at the end of January, possibly to Norfolk, to make the most of the winter wildlife. We’ll also try to have more winter walks around our Northamptonshire home and to nearby nature reserves.
Our first bigger trip of the year will be back down to the South West and a week in the far west of Cornwall. After that, the only certainty is another August Bank Holiday week back on RSPB Ramsey Island, for what might become my ‘usual week’, making the most of the extra day off and the two volunteering days my company gives me to stretch my annual leave as much as I can.
Unusually, our plans for the rest of the year are a little vague. We were planning a fortnight in the far west of Ireland on the Wild Atlantic Way but we might leave that for another year. We might instead head up to Norway for the midnight sun in June, followed by a return to rural Sweden for a week of so. I normally have my holidays all planned for a whole year, well in advance, but, actually, it’s quite nice to have a bit of uncertainty and to take a little more time to find what we want to do.
I’ve still yet to find any suitable local volunteering opportunities to replace those I used to do when I lived in Cheshire but there are one or two things that I might have to give a try. However, I will be looking forward to doing my second year of Breeding Bird Surveys on my new site in the countryside just a little north of where we live.
Finally, I really do need to build my fitness back up after rather a big slump in my activity levels over the past couple of months and a very indulgent Christmas. I need to get back into the routine of running, cycling and walking more regularly and taking lunchtime walks when I’m working at home. In some ways, I still feel I need to break out of some of the pandemic-related behaviours and a new year gives me a chance for a fresh start on the activity front.