Although we had the bitterly cold east winds, and temperatures of -9 C during the last week of February and the beginning of March, we managed to get through the severe weather event without too much damage in this area. However the severe weather brought a welcome bonus for bird sightings, with up to 8 very rare hawfinches being seen in the churchyard. Tiny goldcrests which normally feed in the tops of conifers were also down at ground or hedge level, and were very visible on the enclosed section of footpath to Littleton and in the church car park. They are the smallest of our British birds and have a tell tale gold stripe on their heads. The ones I saw were very fluffed up, like tiny balls of feathers, and flitting through the hedgerows. Blackcaps were seen in many local gardens together with several pairs of colourful bullfinches, and there were large numbers of thrushes all around the parish. 17 fieldfare colourful wintering thrushes from Scandinavia, were seen feeding on apples in a garden at the Square, whilst there were large numbers of redwings around the churchyard and on the village playing fields. These seemed much darker russet red under the wing than usual, but had the distinctive white stripes around their eyes. Mistle thrushes could be seen and heard around the Village Green and church yard, and song thrushes were much more evident than usual at this time of year, and could be seen flying low over lanes and roads, especially the A41. Both these species have lots of speckle marks on their bodies, but mistle thrushes are slightly larger, with perhaps a more blotchy spots, and also have a distinctive and throaty, thrr, thrr, thrr call. Great spotted woodpeckers have become even more visible in the cold weather, with reports from Christleton, Rowton and Littleton, as well as from the regular roost site at Hockenhull.
Up to eight shoveler ducks have been at The Pit, together with hundreds of gulls, mainly black headed in various plumages, and a few larger herring gulls. Buzzards too seem to be coming more and more into gardens, with lots of reports this month. Bird sightings at Hockenhull have been exciting with 50+ yellowhammers and 20+ reed buntings feeding on a field of grasses near the reserve, and which roost in nearby hawthorn hedgerows. They were constantly watched by several buzzards sitting on the top of the field hedges, and a female sparrowhawk was also visible there. The big meadow on the reserve is now very wet indeed, and held up to 7 snipe and 2 jack snipe over the last weekend, and a party of 10 red polls were seen feeding on seed heads of plants situated along the river bank. A pair of kingfishers has recently been active along the river and a delightful grey wagtail was seen feeding there at the end of February. There have been a number of fresh otter spraints on the ledge at the bottom of the middle bridge, an indication that they are back for the breeding season, or following eels up to their spawning grounds at Peckforton. A water rail was heard calling in the poplar plantation and a party of 60 pink footed geese probably from the Icelandic flock flew overhead on the 3rd March. We have recorded up to 2,500 pink footed geese this winter, the second year in succession that so many have come to this area. They traditionally used to spend the winter in areas around Ormskirk and Martin Mere, but now seem to have found happy feeding and roosting grounds on the Dee and Gowy marshes.
Despite the really cold weather, barn, tawny and little owls have been seen and heard, so let’s hope there is enough food around to keep them alive during these last icy weeks of winter, and get them ready for a good breeding season in 2018.
Thanks to Clive Jones & Joe O Hanlon for details and photograph of the hawfinches, and Sara and Joan for reports of the fieldfare and redwing in The Square.
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Pink Footed Geese
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