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Winter Diary 2012/2013

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Waxwing in Tree

Every winter seems to feature interesting birds that arrive here to avoid harsh weather on the continent. Last year saw a huge number of Short-eared Owls wintering in our local fens, many of which stayed deep in to the spring tantalising us with the possibilities of breeding; but alas, by summer they had all gone.

Waxwing on Wire

This winter has seen a huge influx of Fieldfares, far fewer Redwings, but more excitingly good numbers of Bohemian Waxwings. These birds are frustratingly mobile, seemingly happy to commute several miles between different feeding sites and so often "here only 5 minutes ago" when I arrive! Everyone in our village seems to have seen them in their gardens except me! But I did catch up with a small flock feeding on cotoneaster berries in another garden in the village, where our retired school headmistress encouraged me to hang, precariously out of her bathroom window, to photograph these beautiful birds.

Waxwings seem to love the berries that other birds refuse to eat unless they are desperate. We planted lots of native berry bearing shrubs in our garden but these were stripped of their fruit by Blackbirds and Starlings early in the autumn, long before the Waxwings arrived. So the big, bright and brash berries found on the exotic ornamentals so often favoured for planting around supermarket car parks are greedily imbibed by the hungry Bohemians.

Waxwings tend not to show much fear of humans. They probably see very few people in their remote arctic nesting grounds in northern Norway and Siberia, so if you do catch up with a flock the chances of close observation are good.

I suppose the main feature of the last three seasons, including the early part of this winter has been rain. In England 2012 was officially the wettest year since records began. There are noticeably fewer birds in my garden, following a disastrous breeding season in which many chicks perished in their nests from the wet and cold. I am finding the continual wet weather, including the recent snow, has a detrimental effect on the bird food I am putting out turning it to a soggy, mouldy mess within days. Cleaning out and washing the feeders has become a frequent exercise and one soon learns about which feeders are more easily dismantled for this purpose. However I have not let this put me off putting food out for birds as I believe this is a really important contribution to their survival, especially during the spells of snow and ice we have seen recently, when natural food is unavailable.


We try to vary the menu as much as possible in order to feed as many different kinds of birds as we can. Insectivorous birds such as Robins, Dunnocks and Blackbirds love the mealworms whilst the sparrows and finches favour the sunflowers. Goldfinches which used to prefer Niger seed, seem to have changed their eating habits and now favour sunflower hearts. Peanuts are still a good staple food for many species, especially the tit family and essential for Great Spotted Woodpeckers.

Inevitably a wide variety of food will attract a wide variety of species. More unusual visitors to my feeders this winter included Bramblings and Reed Buntings feeding from a seed feeder and seed on the bird table, Siskins on the sunflower hearts and best of all; an over-wintering Blackcap on the fat balls.

Birds are not the only animals that come to my feeding stations. Mice and Bank Voles are also regular, but mostly after dark but the Muntjac featured in an earlier edition of Country Eye laps up any seed left under the feeders and appears at least once a week.

Only 3 miles from here, my friend Nick Williams, a professional bird photographe, has set up a feeding station with a different quarry in mind. There is not a peanut feeder or niger seed in sight, but scraps of meat and the odd deer or rabbit carcase are strategically placed in front of a tiny photographic hide. I am pleased to report that he has succeeded in attracting Lincolnshire's only Ravens, the odd Buzzard and three Red Kites. The Red Kites are slowly colonising Lincolnshire from the south-west emanating from a population of birds originally released in Northamptonshire.

Red Kite

Nick kindly let me use this hide and I took some photographs of these birds in flight. The buoyancy and ease of their flight is, in my opinion only matched by the even rarer Montague's Harrier and is a joy to watch.

Red Kites exemplify one of the more successful reintroduction programmes as populations gradually expand from the vicinity of several release sites in Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Legal protection and more enlightened attitudes have also allowed the indigenous Welsh population to expand too.


As I write this in mid- February, spring is in the air. All the birds are in song and crocuses and aconites are beginning to join the snowdrops in bloom. Let's hope winter does not harbour a sting in its' tail!


Ian Misselbrook
February 2013


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