It's finally starting to feel just a little bit springy.
Last Friday, I took a circular walk down Burlees Lane, through the woods, up the hill, and back home along Height Road.
A hormone-fuelled green woodpecker screeched incessantly (but, unfortunately, invisibly) from the small copse at the end of the lane. I could hear him for almost the entire walk. I spooked a snipe from the field at the side of the wood. Then, as I climbed out of the wood, I turned round to take in the view, and spotted a distant white flash: I'm 95% sure it was my first wheatear of the year. That's a big deal for me.
Yesterday, I glanced out of our dining room window to see three siskins and a large collection of long-tailed tits—comparative rarities in this neck of the moors—feeding on our bird table. The local dunnocks were also being extremely frisky.
Famous last words, I know, but I think we might finally have broken the back of this incessant winter. Having said that, there were still several redwings perched in our neighbour's oak on Friday evening!
Jen and I went for a walk around the lanes this afternoon, and I finally saw some fieldfares. I was beginning to think I might go an entire winter without seeing any! They had congregated in some silver birch with some redwings and starlings:
I don't know why, but I'm quite pleased with this minimalist second shot:
On my way to the garage to saw wood yesterday afternoon, I was delighted to see a redwing in my neighbour's oak tree. Apart from the pair I saw back in November, and one possible sighting near the bird feeder last week, I haven't seen any redwings in our garden this winter. Which is very unusual.
Redwings are always smaller than I remember, and have a slightly angular look to them somehow. I think it might be due to their cream-coloured eye-brows (or supercilia, to give them their proper name).
After a minute or so, I turned towards the garage. Whereupon a flock of about 50 redwings took off from our sycamore and flew away across the fields. How had I missed those?
Fifteen minutes later, as I was sawing wood, I heard rooks and jackdaws making a commotion outside. They were mobbing a buzzard. It flew low over the garden, pursued by its tormentors. It was only the second buzzard I've ever seen from our garden in the 11 years I've lived here. It isn't the crows that keeps them away. Buzzards are simply not tolerated by humans in grouse- and sheep-country, even though killing them is illegal.
After I'd finished sawing, I returned to my study to write. Gazing out the window for inspiration, I found myself eye-to-eye with yet another redwing perched in our fir tree. Of course, by the time I'd got my camera out, it had flown off. But I did manage to photograph three in the neighbour's oak tree.
I'm relieved to see some redwings at last. But I haven't seen any fieldfares this winter, which is very unusual around here.
The redwings are back. I heard them before I saw them, as I went to open the gate for Jen last weekend: the now-familiar seep! call. A pair of them, heading for the safety of one of our sycamores.
Later in the week, I heard and then spotted my first wren for ages. They had a dreadful time last winter, by all accounts. Now, winter draws on once more. Perhaps that's why it sounded so cross.
I've never been very good at identifying birds by their calls, but I'm working on it. I have a CD of British bird songs, but it's a bit artificial: you really need to learn them in the field to put them in the right context. I learnt the golden plover’s wheezing call this May, as Jen and I walked near Blackstone Edge. For five minutes or so, I was under the misapprehension that the wheezing was coming from my right nostril. Then we spotted the plovers, and it all began to make sense.
I recognised the golden plover's unmistakeable call again this Wednesday, as I was walking on the moor with my friend Mike and his labradoodle, Milly. We had reached the first trig point, and were taking in the view:
“Wow! Do you hear that wheezing call?” I asked, astonished. “That's a golden plover! I wonder what it's doing up here at this time of year.”
“Erm…,” ermed an embarrassed Mike, “that would be Milly whining. She does that all the time.”
Like I said, I'm working on it.
No mistaking the call of the red grouse. Later in the walk, approaching the second trig point, we were treated to the rare sight of an unflushed red grouse standing sedately amongst the dead grasses. I fired off loads of photographs, the best of which (heavily cropped and processed) was this:
First update of 2012. What can I say? I've been busy.
January began with snowdrops. I spotted my first, under the smaller of our two sycamores on 5th—the earliest snowdrop in our garden ever, I believe. Two days later, and it was decapitated in a storm. But it was a welcome reminder that winters don't go on forever.
I have taken several walks on the moor. Ice and mud, mainly—and a few stalwart grouse. I also saw a flock of 48 fieldfares. (Yes, I counted them: sad, I know.)
I had a truly astonishing walk up on the moor on 11th February. The area had been hit by frozen ice, so every heather twiglet and blade of grass had been sheathed in ice. It was so cold that the grouse, which I could hear nearby, had taken to hiding instead of flying away—presumably to save energy. They couldn't have been getting much food, with all the heather frozen.
At home, we had our first siskin in the garden. Well, probably not our first—but certainly the first I recognised as a siskin! And we have had a small number of fieldfares and redwings in the front field, although those seem to have returned to Scandinavia now.
Then, this Tuesday, I was in the kitchen making a brew, when there was a tremendous crash against the window next to the bird-feeder. A sparrowhawk, I guessed. I ran over to the window, but there was no sign of anything, save for a few small feathers stuck to the window. But the blackbirds in the garden were going ballistic: they had clearly seen what had happened. I went back upstairs to work, but, 45 minutes later, I realised that the blackbirds were still going ballistic. I went to investigate, and found a little owl sitting in the thorn tree, getting mobbed by chaffinches. I managed to fire off a single, poorly exposed photo before it flew off.
I later read that little owls do indeed eat small birds. They also seem to have stolen a trick from sparrowhawks, and taken to ambushing small birds at feeders.
There are definite signs that spring is on the way. Our garden robin has taken to singing very vocally before sunrise, and is starting to get a bit bolshy. So I'm hoping I should be able to start giving more regular updates in this journal in the near future.
Shortly before gloaming this afternoon, I realised that the bird-feeders in the garden must be empty, so I went to refill them. Having made some long-put-off, simple repairs to the bird-table, involving a few cable-grips, I replenished its feeders, plus the one by the kitchen window, then went to do the same to the feeder hanging from the cherry tree.
I was half-way through filling the last feeder, when I heard a high-pitched seep! call from the adjacent thorn tree. I was fairly sure it was my first redwing of the winter, but, look as I might, I couldn't spot it—even though it obligingly continued to seep!
Then a blaze of activity, and a sparrowhawk landed in the tree about ten feet from me: slate-grey—a male. The presumed redwing went very quiet. Amazingly, the sparrowhawk had not seen me. He sat there for a good minute, annoyingly obscured by twigs, before he took off and headed back the way he had come, accompanied by a final taunting seep! from the thorn tree.
No photograph, obviously, so here is one I took of a more successful sparrowhawk a few years back: