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Winter Diary 2021 / 22

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Despite the shorter day length and potentially harsher weather conditions, the winter months can be every bit as rewarding as the other seasons. Of course, it is necessary to dress accordingly and to be aware of conditions that might threaten our safety. Mud can be as slippery as ice as I have often found out to my cost!

Grey Squirrel

The absence of leaves makes it easier to see wildlife in our woods. In addition to wintering birds, mammals such as Grey Squirrels and deer are more easily observed. Talking of which, the numbers of Fallow Deer in this part of Lincolnshire continue to increase inexorably; well beyond the numbers that can sustain a healthy population. I counted an incredible 1400 in pastures adjacent to a local wood where the deer are out-competing the farmer's cattle for grazing.

Fallow Deer


As I write Britain is experiencing one of the worst out-breaks of bird flu in living memory. Hundreds of Barnacle Geese have died long and painful deaths on the Solway Firth. One observer described it as like a killing field. Thousands of flocks of domestic poultry have been slaughtered too and there is no such thing as free range chicken eggs at present as all the birds have to be housed. The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) have reported that our resident chaffinches have suffered greatly too. However, it seems to be a good winter for the closely related Bramblings; finches wintering here from Scandinavia and other part of northern Europe. An incredible 103 were ringed when nets were placed in a local tree nursery.

Barn Owl

The shorter days and hard weather often encourage Barn Owls to hunt during the day. The owl in the photograph was hunting at 1pm. Red Kites continue to colonise Lincolnshire from the south-west but they remain thinly distributed, in sharp contrast to the population in Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire where some residents are calling for them to be culled.

Red Kite

If you are able to visit the coast during the winter months, birdwatching can be immensely rewarding. Only yesterday when I was volunteering as a bird guide at RSPB Frampton Marsh, I saw no less than 11 species of duck, 2 of swans and 5 of geese in one day.

Whooper Swan family

The Lincolnshire and Cambridge fens play host to migrant swans; mostly Whooper Swans which migrate in family groups and then join flocks, some of which can number several hundred. Whilst Whooper Swans seem to be holding their own the smaller Bewick's Swan seems to be declining rapidly. Bewick's Swans are confined to breed in parts of Russia and Siberia whereas Whooper Swans are much more widely distributed as breeding birds in arctic and northern Europe which might account for the formers decline and vulnerability.

Waders or shorebirds as they are known in the USA, also winter in large numbers with literally thousands of some species present on the Wash coast of Lincolnshire and Norfolk.

Curlew feeding

I have always been fascinated by the different adaptions wading birds have made to feed. The long down curved bill of the Curlew is perfectly adapted to probe deep into the mud where the largest worms and other invertebrates live. The sequence of photographs demonstrates how effective this method of feeding can be.

Curlew with worm

In contrast the upturned bill of the Avocet is more suited to sieving tiny crustaceans from shallow brackish water.



The straight bill of the Redshank enables it to feed on invertebrates present in the top 20 centimetres of mud, whereas the shorter bills of plovers and Dunlin restrict them to feeding on prey that live on or close to the surface of mud and water.

Redshank feeding

Sanderling are really a joy to watch as they feed on prey along the tide line. They run up and down close to the waves but always seem to narrowly avoid being swept up by the incoming tide!


Increasingly we are witnessing how climate change is changing the behaviour of birds. Curlew Sandpipers and Little Stints which normally use Britain as a stop-over as they migrate from their arctic nesting grounds and then continue further south seem reluctant to leave. At Frampton Marsh Curlew Sandpipers remained until early December and as I write in mid-January there are still 2 or 3 Little Stints present. I find this erosion and blurring of our seasons rather sad. Yet another example of how we are damaging the beautiful planet on which we live.

Ian Misselbrook
December 2020


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