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Winter Diary 2023 / 24

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I always remember my old friend, the wildlife artist Richard Hull telling me how much he looked forward to the arrival of winter. When I was working, I could not agree with him as short daylight hours and pressures of work reduced my opportunities to commune with nature to weekends and even then, inclement weather often prevented me from going out. However, now that I am retired and in theory have seven days a week available, I have to concede that for birdwatching at least, winter is the most exciting season of the year.


One of the highlights of the winter months is simply to see what turns up locally. My friend and webmaster for Country Eye took these photographs of Fieldfares from his house during the spell of hard weather earlier this winter. These large members of the thrush family nest in Scandinavia and together with their smaller relatives; Redwings and continental Blackbirds winter in the UK in their thousands, to avoid the harsh Scandinavian weather.


Much less common are Waxwings which are only seen in significant numbers occasionally.

Fortunately, this winter is a good one for Waxwings and small locks of these exotic looking birds have turned up at a number of locations. Waxwings eat berries and they seem to favour berries of ornamental shrubs that are often planted in relatively urban areas. In fact, Waxwings have established a reputation for favouring supermarket car parks and Tesco's hosted a small flock local to me!

Common Crane

Another exotic looking bird that winters in my locality is the Common Crane. I reported in an earlier edition of Country Eye that they bred in Lincolnshire for the first time in 400 years during the pandemic lockdown in 2020, at Willow Tree Fen nature reserve. Since 2022 the breeding birds have stayed on the reserve for the winter months and their presence has attracted other cranes to do the same. In 2023 no fewer than 3 pairs attempted to nest on the reserve with another pair in residence nearby. When I visited the reserve a few days ago 9 cranes were present and some were displaying and bugling loudly. Clearly the birds are already competing for nesting territories. It will be interesting to see how many will nest on the reserve this spring. Major improvements to the reserve's habitats have been undertaken with several new scrapes and pools created on what used to be dry and rather uninteresting grassland. In addition to the cranes the reserve hosts one of the largest harrier roosts in the county with over 20 Marsh Harriers and a couple of Hen Harriers coming in most evenings during the winter month.. It also attracts a large roost of Goosander sometimes exceeding 100 birds!


Goosanders belong to the family of fish eating saw-billed ducks and prefer bodies of fresh water. The very similar Red-breasted Merganzer is more likely to be found on our seas around the coast in the winter. The third species of sawbill that occurs regularly in Britain and the smallest of the three is the Smew. This is my favourite duck and one that each year becomes more difficult to see. It is a beautiful duck and the drakes are often nick-named white nuns! The photo shows one swimming near a Common Gull, so you can see how small and dainty they are.

Russian White-fronted Geese

Another species that turned up close to my home were 3 Russian White-fronted Geese.

Russian White-fronted Geese
These birds joined a flock of feral Greylag ad Canada Geese on a relatively small pond adjacent to a nature reserve. They were very wary and quite difficult to photograph, but I managed grab some shots by laying on my stomach in an adjacent hedgerow!

Ian Misselbrook
February 2024


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