We haven’t had much of a winter, or at least we haven’t had much winter weather. It remains to be seen how this is going to affect the wildlife but hopefully the mild temperatures mean that there’s been plenty of food to go round over the past few months and that could give animals better chances of survival. On the other hand, all the rain we’ve had could do the opposite – flooding small mammals and invertebrates out of their habitats and preventing carnivorous species from hunting. What does seem positive is at least it looks like we’re going to have a proper spring this year, after pretty much skipping it altogether in 2013.
Mid-February saw a sunny few hours at the London Wetland Centre in the hope of finally seeing a Jack Snipe. Of course we failed, but we did instead get lots of Common Snipe, a heavily-obscured view of a Bittern, and we finally saw one of the local Peregrines for the first time, perched on a crane across the other side of the Thames. The following weekend we went to visit Jem’s nan who was recovering from illness at Colchester General. After visiting we took her grandpa to one of his favourite places, an inland part of Hamford Water, where we saw distant flocks of Lapwing and Golden Plover, a few Curlew and Redshank, and a probable Common Buzzard with prey on the marsh.The following day Jem and I decided to visit Broxbourne Woods in Hertfordshire. It was much more of a walk from Broxbourne Station than we’d realised, and without a proper map available (I was just using the map on my iPhone) we had to improvise a route. This meant we managed to get out of Broxbourne and across the A10 okay, seeing a nice Great Spotted Woodpecker on the way, but then found ourselves right in the middle of the Hertfordshire Golf Club, which probably didn’t go down well with the patrons. We managed to get off the course and followed a road into the woods, seeing a nice close-up Goldcrest, distant Green Woodpecker and a few Meadow Pipits on the way. As we headed back towards Broxbourne we found two dead foxes together at the side of the road. Strangely, one had been dead a while and was starting to decay, but the other was clearly a much more recent death. We never really made it into the ‘proper’ parts of the woods, but we’ve got a better map now and will probably try again sometime soon.
The following weekend had good weather again, so Jem and I decided to return to Thursley Common in Surrey after we’d failed to find the Great Grey Shrike back in November. It was glorious sunshine again and this time we were in luck. After good views of Wrens and Stonechats, we got ourselves over to the aptly-named Shrike Hill and saw our target perched on a branch. The paths around the hill skirt quite a large area, and in my experience Great Grey Shrikes aren’t too keen on close company, so every time we relocated it, it flew somewhere else. The numerous dog walkers didn’t exactly help things. In any case, the good weather meant a huge amount of heat haze, and so good photos were always going to be off the menu. There were also fair views of circling Buzzards overhead. We decided to head back fairly early as it’s quite a trek back to London from there and we were off to Wimbledon Greyhound Races for Dev’s birthday, but on the way we had the bonus of close views of a pair of Woodlarks – a species I’d only previously seen in flight.
The following weekend saw us travel all the way down to Yeovil for the football. We stopped at Stonehenge on the way, and we saw a flock of likely Meadow Pipits rise from the grass, we heard several Skylarks, and then had great views of a Kestrel hunting around the henge itself, even stopping to perch on top of the one of the stones. Lots of Buzzards and a few Red Kites were also seen on the way down to Yeovil. Of course, Wednesday decided to not bother performing for us and Yeovil eased to a well-deserved 2-0 victory. More Buzzards and Kestrels were seen on the way back from Somerset as the sun went down.
Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers (my most elusive species to date) have been seen in both Bushy Park and Regents Park over the past two weeks, and I was itching to go on a hunt for them, but instead Jem and I decided it was time we finally got round to visiting Amwell in Hertfordshire first. Again the weather was fantastic, and that made for an enjoyable walk up the canal from St Margarets Station (despite having just witnessed a bizarre screaming argument on the train between a weird older woman and a young girl on a mobile phone). The first hide we tried was fairly quiet for us – a couple of Buzzards, an overhead Kestrel, distant Grey Herons, Cormorants and Little Egrets, a few Tufted Ducks, and several Greylag and Canada Geese were pretty much all we saw. However, we made our way across to a second hide nestled in the woods and straight away got our first Treecreeper of the year. Once inside we got great views of several Reed Buntings coming to the bird feeders right next to the hide. There were also Chaffinches, a Pheasant and Wren, and Jem saw a Cetti’s Warbler (which I only heard). The undoubted highlight was a Kingfisher hanging around the pool in front of us for a good ten minutes, and although it was a bit far away for ‘good’ photos, it was still a great show. Before we left we checked out the larger hide on the opposite side of the main lake. We didn’t see much else from there, but we did get a very brief glimpse of a Red Kite because it disappeared below the treeline. It was a surprisingly good day out, and we’ll definitely be back.
So that brings me to this past weekend. Sunny skies again, so we did get ourselves over to Bushy Park to look for Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers. Of course, we failed again. We did get several Green Woodpeckers, and at least one Great Spotted instead. We also had great views of one of several newly-arrived singing Chiffchaffs, some confiding Robins and Long-tailed Tits, a few Mistle Thrushes, at least one Skylark (with lots more singing from the tufted grass), and even a vole rustling in a leafy ditch. The main highlight came on the way back when we got great views of at least two (possibly more) Treecreepers feeding on the bark of the widely-spaced trees near to the Teddington Gate entrance. In the early afternoon sunshine they were definitely the best views I’ve had of these birds.
I’ve also received confirmation, via the official report from our Devon trip back in Jan/Feb that the scoters we saw were indeed Velvet Scoters, which means I’m now up to (#401) lifetime species.