I think it's fair to say that January 2010 will be remembered mainly for The Big Freeze. As a direct result of the snow and ice, I was unable to get out and do any serious birding until the middle of the month, but despite this I had a number of good ticks from the warmth and comfort of the house.
I've already talked about the unexpected double whammy of sparrowhawks that opened my birding account for the year, but New Year's Day also brought goldfinch, redwing, nuthatch and jay my way, and a house sparrow was a rare visitor to the damson tree in the back garden, albeit for a matter of seconds. As the first day of the year drew to a close, I had 18 birds on the list.
Over the next few days there was a steady trickle of decent sightings, no doubt aided by the cold snap. Mistle thrush, long-tailed tit and goldcrest all fell, and walking to and from work on 6 January added a wren and a kestrel to the list. Feral pigeon was duly noted, but won't be counted this year. Having seen the real McCoy on Islay last year I just don't have the appetite to tick them in 2010.
A picture taken at work with my phone follows. You can now click on my images to open a larger version in a new window.
A white-out at Pearl Group plc
On 9 January I had a rare song thrush in the garden and another sparrowhawk flew over the house. This turned out to be a mega weekend for garden birds. The snow brought a few redwings down and a couple of siskins turned up in the alder later that day. But it was Sunday 10 January that brought the biggest surprise. Whilst sat in the study, I noticed a large bird drifting over the A435. Quickly ruling out common buzzard, I watched as the bird passed across the field opposite the house - red kite! Amazing!
I finally clocked a common buzzard whilst having my lunch at work the following Tuesday. Sparrowhawk the first bird on the year list? Red kite before common buzzard? A chance of honey buzzard and Montagu's harrier in Norfolk in the summer? This is turning out to be a raptor-tastic year, I thought to myself! That evening, my Dad rang and proposed a trip to Upton Warren on the Sunday. As the week wore on the snow finally relented and we made it out into the field as planned.
Before heading for Upton Warren, however, we paid a visit to Bredon's Hardwick to look for the red-crested pochards that had been seen there the previous day. I wasn't exactly sure where to view from. I understand most people scan from the B4080, so I did a bit of research and with the aid of Google maps I identified a spot that looked promising.
On arriving, we set up the scopes and had a look down towards the sailing lake. A few more year ticks were noted, including fieldfare, wigeon and great crested grebe, then before I knew it, several red-crested pochard appeared in the scope [lifer!]. I think we were a bit lucky to see them as we were only able to scan a limited part of the lake. If I pass that way again I shall have to see if there are any better places to view from.
I suspect these ducks are part of the feral population from Cotswold Water Park, which I believe have been pushed northwards into the Midlands due to the freezing conditions. I'm sure Martyn Yapp will have an opinion on their plasticity! Either way, they have been ticked and added to the life list. I hadn't been particularly excited about seeing them, but I actually found it much more enjoyable than I thought I would. In fact, I can honestly say it was duck-mongous!
Upton Warren produced excellent views of a bittern, both on the Moors Pool and the North Moors Pool. A record shot taken by my Dad as the bird ventured out onto the ice follows. An even better picture taken by Pete Walkden now graces the Worcestershire Source blog. Thanks, Pete.
Bittern at Upton Warren
Also seen at Upton Warren were bullfinch, water rail, snipe, shoveler, teal, pochard and reed bunting. On a negative note, we didn't see or hear any Cetti's warblers. I hope these charismatic little birds have survived the inclement weather. We abandoned plans to visit The Flashes, opting instead to pay a quick visit to Shenstone where we thought the birding opportunities might reap better dividends.
Water rail at Upton Warren
Despite our optimism, we had slim pickings at Shenstone, but great spotted woodpecker, stock dove and skylark were added to the year list. Sadly, there were no sign of any corn buntings or grey partridge, Shenstone's jewels in the crown so to speak. I did have a probable yellowhammer, but not good enough views to warrant a tick.
We bumped into a couple of birders who had spotted a single brambling, but despite a quick search we couldn't relocate the bird. Heading home, we passed through Hopwood to have a look for a little owl, which posed obligingly for my Dad whilst he took a photograph. A good morning's birding, with three Eddie Stobart trucks life-ticked too!
Little owl at Hopwood
On 25 January Mrs Reg and I paid a visit to Brandon Marsh and Ryton Woods, the latter being an intended venue for a bit of butterflying later in the year. I was keen to suss it out in advance, which proved to be a good idea as the country park, Ryton Pool and the woodland all cover a sizeable area. I'll definitely have to get some good gen before I think about returning in the summer.
Brandon Marsh added a green-winged teal to the year list and I had good views of a bittern in flight, thanks to Mrs Reg's quick reactions. Perhaps we'll make a birder of her yet! Cetti's warbler was heard, but remained hidden in the reeds. At Ryton Woods I connected with at least one lesser redpoll amongst a large flock of siskins and goldfinch, plus a couple of common gulls on Ryton Pool.
Green-winged teal at Brandon Marsh
The last hurrah of the month was a trip to Pitsford Reservoir in Northamptonshire with my Dad, Dave 'Leapy' Lyons and my burgeoning birding chum Boyley. Before heading east we paid a quick visit to Leapy's local patch to bag red-legged and grey partridges. These birds were lifers for Boyley, as were a lot of the goodies that fell later in the day.
The main quarry was great white egret, which we were able to spot within five minutes of arriving [lifer!], but the reservoir held a wide range of good birds. These included year ticks for me in the shape of [I must stop saying that!] goldeneye, goosander, yellowhammer, tree sparrow [loads of them!], ruddy duck, smew, marsh tit and redshank.
Dreadful record shot of the great white egret
On the way home we took a detour through Grandborough to have a go for a great grey shrike that's been there for a while, but alas, the bird hadn't been seen since 11.00am. A nice flock of linnets provided another year tick, but was scant consolation for dipping out on one of my favourite birds. I had really wanted Boyley to see it too. Oh well, I suppose there'll be others.
A nice soak in the bath was just what the doctor ordered after a long day out in the chilly conditions. Even as I write, I am safely enveloped in my jim-jams and dressing gown, looking forward to a nice Islay malt to celebrate the lifer, and an evening in front of the telly with Mrs Reg and Holly Willoughby. Read into that what you will!
Looking ahead, February should see me return to the Wyre Forest. There's always a good range of birds to see there and it's a beautiful place to walk around. Who knows, I might even run into a naked lady again?
I'm particularly keen to catch up with a lesser spotted woodpecker again after missing this elusive species in 2009, and the Wyre seems a good a place as any other to start looking for them. I don't think I can rely on one turning up on my peanut feeder again!
Until next time, enjoy your birding.