Despite being well in to the second half of January it does not seem very appropriate to be writing a winter piece. Following the warmest autumn on record the winter, so far, seems far more like autumn or even spring. Song Thrushes and Great tits have been singing almost daily since the beginning of November and the roses in my garden have simply refused to stop blooming. I can only recall two frosts this winter, but we have endured a lot of rain and several days of severe gales. Real evidence, I believe, of global warming.
As a naturalist, I believe the only disadvantage of winter is that the short days inevitably restrict time in the field to weekends. However, time spent in the field during the winter months can be very rewarding indeed. Not only do we get an influx of wintering birds but also the lack of leaves and undergrowth make the observation of mammals in our local woodlands, somewhat easier.
My ramblings in our local woods seldom fail yield good views of deer; usually Fallow Deer and quite often the diminutive Muntjac, which has also been seen in my Rippingale garden. But last weekend I was very pleased to add another species to my list for Temple Wood, when I watched two Roe Deer tip-toeing through a particularly attractive block of deciduous woodland. I am particularly pleased to see Roe Deer returning to south Lincolnshire woodlands as unlike the aforementioned species they are true natives of these shores. The Fallow Deer is thought to have been introduced by the Normans for hunting, although the discovery of fossil Fallow Deer at Clacton in Essex lends some weight to the argument that they were at one time natives. The Muntjac is a far more recent introduction having escaped from Woburn in Bedfordshire only a century ago and is now common in most areas of England. Roe Deer seem to have colonised Lincolnshire from the north; I remember watching a television programme some years ago which showed a Roe Deer swimming across the Humber towards Lincolnshire from East Yorkshire's Spurn Pont.
Avian visitors this winter have been rather unreliable. Huge flocks of Fieldfares and Redwings appeared quite early in the autumn then disappeared for weeks before reappearing around Christmas but as I write, are rather thin on the ground again. Reports of Waxwing are few and far between and I have certainly not seen any yet.
My favourite duck; the Smew has been visiting favoured sites regularly, but the two at Deeping Lakes nature reserve can be very elusive, being very evident on some visits but disappearing on the same day only to return hours later. Goosander too, tend to drop in for a few hours then disappear again. Good local sites for the latter are Baston Gravel pits, Deeping High bank and the aforementioned Deeping Lakes.
My WeBS count at Holywell Lake has revealed a wintering female Mandarin
as well as the long staying Pink-footed Goose who seems perfectly happy
consorting with the resident flock of Canada Geese. The Lincolnshire coast
is a more usual location for Pink Feet but if you fail to find any around
our shores of the wash then go to the north Norfolk coast where more than
The sight and sound of amassed Brent Geese still stirs my soul and these birds are easily seen at any coastal area near Boston.
It is worth scanning the flock of Brents for rare vagrants such as the Light Bellied race, more usual on Britain's west coast, or the rarer still white flanked Black Brant, but top prize must go to the globally endangered Red-breasted Goose, two of which are wintering with Brents in North Lincolnshire.
The most unusual bird in Lincolnshire this winter, which has now taken up residence in north Norfolk is probably the Black-eared Kite. First seen at Frieston Shore NR and later at Holbeach Marsh this is by some regarded as the far eastern sub species of the Black Kite and by others accorded full species status. It is amazing to think this bird has probably travelled from as far as India or China (where it is common) to reach these shores.
Less rare, but just as exciting for me are the 2 Short-eared Owls wintering on Dunsby and Rippingale fens. Short-ears are no where near as common as they were two winters ago when the UK received a major influx from the continent, and we had up to 9 birds at Hawthorpe (see Country Eye 2005), so I feel really privileged to have two within a mile or so of my home. These owls often hunt by day, hence I was able to take the photo attached. European Stonchats are also wintering on Dunsby fen with a further pair at Hawthorpe.
In conclusion I hope this has encouraged you to don your wellies and brave the gales. Who knows what the wind may blow in!
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