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Winter Diary 2016/17

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Having spent four weeks of this winter outside the UK I am probably less well qualified to comment on the weather and it's impact on wildlife. However, that will not stop me trying!

photo by John Warman

The first part of the winter followed the mild open autumn with mild temperatures and average rainfall here in Lincolnshire. In my village hedgehogs were still active and feeding in December; showing no inclination to hibernate. After Christmas the weather turned much colder with even a little snow.

Hedgehog caught on trailcam on
17th December by John Warman
High pressure dominated during January with temperatures falling below freezing on many nights and sharp frosty dawns accompanied by unwelcome fog.

Short Eared Owl
photo by Libby Owen

The arrival of birds wintering here such as Fieldfares, Redwings, Blackbirds and Robins which commenced in the autumn continued in to the winter. Many rarities appeared such as the Siberian Accentor and several different rare thrushes. It has also turned out to be a good winter for Short-eared Owls with one site close to my home hosting as many as nine birds.

Short Eared Owl hunting
Small mammals such as mice and voles seem to be plentiful so the "Shorties" are finding sufficient food to entice them to stay. The resident Barn Owls, Tawny Owls and Kestrels are also thriving.

Short Eared Owl

Short Eared Owl


The same habitat that owls and Kestrels find so attractive is also favoured by Stonechats. This bird breeds on heaths and moors but usually winter in pairs in rough grassland. The photograph shows one of a pair that kept me entertained whilst waiting for the Short-eared Owls to appear.


Although autumn and spring are the times when many waders drop in to our wetlands to feed on their way to or from their breeding grounds, many thousands of waders choose to winter on our shores. The Wash which borders both Lincolnshire and Norfolk is an especially important site for wintering waders, ducks and geese and the spectacle of tens of thousands of waders rising to the air as the tide comes in, is one of my ornithological highlights. The numbers of waders that nest here such as Common Redshank, Curlew and Lapwings are swollen by visitors from northern Europe. A visit to the RSPB reserve at Snettisham on a rising tide gives you the best chance of a high tally of species and also vast numbers. Flocks of Knot, for example regularly exceed tens of thousands but you can also expect to see more than ten different species of waders during a short visit.

Grey Plover in winter plumage

One of my favourites is The Grey Plover. Aptly names when you see it in mid- winter, but if you are lucky enough to observe it in Spring or Autumn, you will understand why the Americans call it Black-bellied Plover.

A walk in the local woods during winter really indicates the damage that the burgeoning population of Fallow Deer are having. Herds of over two hundred fallow deer grazing in fields adjacent to woods is not an uncommon sight but in the woods the understorey which used to be the nesting habitat for Nightingales and warblers has been stripped out. When I first moved to the area thirty years ago when deer numbers were much lower, I mapped the territories of 13 pairs of Nightingales in one wood. None have nested in the wood for several years because the thick cover they require is gone.

White Billed Diver

One of the biggest coincidences of this winter has been the appearance of the very rare White Billed Diver on the same stretch of the River Witham as the last record for the county in 1996 - more than 20 years ago! And, no it is not the same individual because the last bird sadly died when it was accidentally hooked by an angler. The nearest regular wintering population of this arctic breeding fish eater is western Norway but the bulk of the population are thought to winter in the North Pacific. The White Billed Diver is the largest of the family with a very heavy bill. It is a plainer plumaged bird than the more regular Great Northern Diver but impressive none the less.

Surf Scoter

A more likely venue for sea ducks, divers and grebes that regularly turns up "goodies" is Rutland Water. This vast man-made lake is a magnet for all sorts of birds and compared to the sea it is usually relatively calm and is well stocked with fish and other food items. The star bird this winter (so far) has been an immature Surf Scoter. In adult plumage the Surf Scoter is a stunning bird, but as you can see this immature bird is very drab indeed. Nevertheless it is the rarest of the three species of Scoter that regularly visit the UK and as such was a major attraction to twitchers and other keen birders.

I spend a small fortune feeding the birds in my garden but I have to say that it pays off. Yesterday afternoon I watched an over-wintering Blackcap taking the raisins that I had soaked in water, which are also beloved by Blackbirds. A Brambling feeding underneath the bird table with Chaffinches in January was my first this winter. I am hoping that meat and fat scraps might tempt down the Red Kites that now patrol low over the garden, but no luck so far!


Ian Misselbrook
February 2017


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