It's been a lot longer than intended to post my latest blog, what with Christmas and New Year festivities, preparing for the arrival of Sarah and my baby in the coming months and the joys of the end of year tax return time has just been too short to either go birding or post here.
My first birding outing of the year came as late as 19th January following heavy snowfall that bought much of England to a grinding halt. I ventured out on the local patch for the first time in 2013 hoping that the freezing conditions will have led to a reshuffling of birds at the site. It was not long before the first of the unusual visitors, for the patch at least, appeared with five Wigeon on the River Test flowing warm and unfrozen through its frozen flood plain. Next was a patch tick, a fine adult winter Mediterranean Gull loitering amongst an inflated Black-headed Gull flock (up from the usual 70 to 180 birds) on the snow covered fields. Then another patch record , a group of six Stock Dove and next yet another patch record a quite astonishing flock of 200 Lapwing settled in the fields, the previous highest count being a flock of 25 flyover birds. Other good patch bird included 30 Fieldfare, 6 Skylark, 11 Snipe, 3 Goosander and 6 Tufted Duck. So all in all, on a local scale I was very pleased with my first venture onto the patch in 2013, my sightings clearly being enlivened by a cold weather movement.
Cold weather movements were a feature of this period throughout the country with many species heading south and west to escape the severe conditions. Cold weather movements are often caused by freezing conditions on the continent causing birds to move west to the British Isles. The mild conditions of the British Isles, as a result of the warming influence of the Atlantic Ocean, may result in large numbers of birds escaping the colder continental climate to winter here. These movements are driven by food shortages as a result of the frozen conditions. Classic families associated with these movements are Plovers, Thrushes and Skylarks - some such as Tufted Duck may undertaken local movements from frozen still freshwater bodies to more coastal or flowing waters which remain ice free while others may move hundreds of miles.
A visit to Pennington Marshes on 20th January revealed huge numbers of Fieldfare that had clearly escaped from colder conditions to the coast, which at Pennington was relatively snow free. Whether these birds were continental or of UK origin is not known. Fieldfare are usually nervous birds and difficult to approach but these birds were confiding, preoccupied with feeding after escaping frozen conditions. I estimated that there were around 2000 birds present but a constant easterly movement may have meant a significant underestimation in numbers. Intriguingly there were very few Redwing present, presumably these had moved elsewhere - perhaps further south?
A Frozen Winter Patch