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Winter Diary 2013/14

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Grey Seal Pup

Every winter seems to be different and although the transition from autumn to winter was not marked in terms of temperature, the story so far has been of storms lashing our islands. As I write in mid January many homes and businesses are flooded especially in the Thames valley and the Somerset levels.

Here in eastern England we are still assessing the damage caused by the biggest tidal surge for sixty years which occurred on the 5th of December. Virtually the whole of the east coast was affected from Scotland in the north down to Kent and Sussex. Here in Lincolnshire the port town of Boston was flooded and many parts of the Lincolnshire and Norfolk coasts were remodelled by a combination of winds and waves unseen since the tragic events of 1953. Fortunately the country was better prepared and the loss of life was much smaller but damage to properties runs into millions of pounds.

Grey Seal Pup With Mum

Only a few weeks before the surge my wife and I visited the Grey Seal colony during the peak week of pupping, in late November. On the day we visited the wardens proudly announced the birth of over 1300 pups with more expected. Little did they know that less than two weeks later wardens and volunteers would be ripping up the fence designed to protect the colony from visitors, in order that the seals and pups could scramble up the sand dunes to avoid the tidal surge. In the event the dunes were breached and marooned pups, separated from their mothers were swept inland. Fortunately many of these pups were reunited with their mothers over the ensuing days, but inevitably there were some casualties.

Many of my favourite nature reserves were damaged including Gibralter Point, Snettisham (where most of the hides were damaged or swept away), Titchwell and even as far south as Minsmere in Suffolk. It remains to be seen how the incursion of sea water in to fresh water reedbeds and meres will affect fish stocks and vulnerable breeding birds like Bitterns.

White-rumped Sandpiper

One feature of our westerly weather patterns is the arrival of vagrants from North America. My local nature reserve; Frampton Marsh played host to several North American waders and I caught up with some of them. At least two White-rumped Sandpipers appeared during the autumn one of which I managed to photograph. These birds breed in Alaska and Canada and would normally migrate south through the USA to winter in South America.


A similar sized wader, but one that is far more common on our shores is the very pale and endearing Sanderling. Normally seen feeding along the shore at the very edge of the waves the latin name canutus would surely be a more appropriate label for this bird than its larger cousin the Knot? Unusually the birds I photographed were feeding in the middle of the salt marsh at Holkham Gap close to high tide.

Great Northern Diver

Rarities are not just confined to the autumn months and my new year list got off to a bumper start with several goodies turning up locally. A Great White Egret on my local fen was the 2nd in three years and is most likely the same bird. More than twice the size of the now fairly common Little Egrets these are spectacular birds and unlike the sandpiper difficult to miss. Equally exotic was the Glossy Ibis that turned up on a local nature reserve and just yesterday a Great Northern Diver at the RSPB's Freiston Shore was an impressive sighting.

Pintails at Frampton

However it is not just rarities that tickle my palate (metaphorically speaking!) for what could be nicer than a Drake Pintail in fresh new plumage dabbling in the water? Geese have always excited me too and a visitor from inland Shropshire reminded me how lucky we are to see Brent Geese which almost never venture inland.

The Wash coast normally hosts over 100,000 Pink-footed Geese and these are often joined by a few scores of White-fronted Geese and sometimes something rarer.

White Fronted Geese

Most wild mammals are thriving in this corner of Lincolnshire but some, perhaps to the detriment of other species. A case in point is the badger. I don't think it is coincidence that the massive increase in badgers corresponded to a huge decline in the hedgehog population.

Fallow Deer have almost reached epidemic numbers in the local woods and although arguably they open up the understory to the benefit of flowering plants, they have been cited as one possible factor in the decline, almost to extinction of the formerly abundant population of Nightingales in this area. Other dwellers of shrubby understorey such as garden warblers have also suffered from this loss of habitat.

Hedge Laying

One operation carried out during the winter months is that of hedge trimming. Of course flail mowers mounted to the rear of tractors provide the popular solution, but locally we have witnessed a revival in the old craft of hedge laying, as the photographs illustrate.

Several businesses have set up locally offering this service to farmers and other landowners and courses on the craft have proved popular. Although the initial impression is one of destruction the end result is a tight stock proof hedge with no gaps well suited to wildlife.


Ian Misselbrook
January 2014


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