It’s impossible to predict how any one count will go: there does not seem to be any obvious pattern. This month’s December tally is on the smaller side. In fact the lowest so far this year at 32 snipe including 2 jack. 28 of them were in Big Meadow, 3 in School Pond and a solitary bird in the Hay Meadow. Whilst Upper Sowerholme was devoid of snipe, it did yield 6 fieldfare, a kestrel and 6 teal (probably the same ones spotted earlier on Willow Pond by Graham during his reserve inspection). There was a reed bunting in School Pond; a heron and curlew seen in Big Meadow.
Poor results again. The penultimate flush count of this winter yielded just 16 snipe (including 1 jack). Apart from one in the Hay Meadow, all the rest were in Big Meadow. This total is exactly a tenth of the highest-ever monthly count on the reserve –160 in March 2016.
On the plus side, teal are still making a regular appearance. Twelve were counted on School Pond, along with two mallards and a moorhen. There were three mallards in Big Meadow too. (Hopefully some of these will adopt the the artificial nests in the Hay Meadow and Upper Sowerholme.) A meadow pipit and a pair of reed bunting were also spotted here.
The marshes were slightly less wet for this month’s flush count, and the temperature feeling pleasantly mild after the last few days of cold and wind. But not many snipe in evidence. 7 in the Hay Meadow, 5 in School Pond, 17 in Big Meadow (4 of them jack) and 6 in Upper Sowerholme. Total of 35 was actually comparable to last year, but well short of March 2016’s record tally.
But if we weren’t calling ‘snipe’, there was a lot of other wildlife to grab our interest:
- heron (presumably the same one) seen earlier in Flora Field (along with a mistle thrush) then spotted flying above Upper Sowerholme. taking off from the Big Meadow marsh and seen again landing in Cromwell’s Pond (Hay Meadow)
- two hen pheasants in Upper Sowerholme
- a woodcock in the Lucy Brook willows in the Hay Meadow
- a reed bunting on the old alder tree in Big Meadow
- a meadow pipit in the Big Meadow marsh
- a skylark around School Pond
- 12 teal, mostly lurking in the rushes rather than on the water of School Pond
- and a real highlight – a brown hare disturbed in the west side of Big Meadow, which proceeded to make a high speed circuit of the field.
Lovely bright, warm morning for our last outing of the 2016/17 season. A total of 17 snipe still in the marshes (similar to this time last year). 1 in the Hay Meadow, 6 in Upper Sowerholme and 10 in Big Meadow. Somewhat surprisingly, there were no snipe flushed in School Pond. Perhaps being deterred by too much standing water – the numbers were down last month when it was also very wet.
For the season as a whole, the total number of snipe counted was almost identical to last season (390 versus 393). But the distribution over the months was different. Last winter’s peak was in March. This winter’s peak was in December, following a strong November tally.
A frog was spotted close to Lucy’s Pool. Reed bunting and meadow pipit were in evidence in Big Meadow. And after the group had split up, Graham disturbed a brown hare at the north end of the Big Meadow marsh as he made his way home.
Snipe numbers on the reserve have previously been on a rising trend at this time of year. Not so today. A measly total of 38 (including 2 Jack), down on December and considerably lower than January in the past two years. Picking Jon’s brain for an explanation and the mild weather is probably a factor, allowing the snipe to disperse more widely. But the recent flooding could also be playing a part. It is creating new (albeit temporary) pockets of habitat full of drowned invertebrates, which present lush feeding opportunities. The number of snipe roosting on the reserve therefore may well be higher than this count suggests.
In terms of spread between the fields, the Hay Meadow again yielded a higher number than anticipated. 11 birds, principally flying off from around Cromwell’s Pond. This marsh is now full of standing water, so perhaps this greater wetness is more attractive. In contrast, the Big Meadow marsh was not much wetter than normal and only 9 birds were counted, including the 2 Jack. School Pond yielded 14, Upper Sowerholme the remaining 4. But still no woodcock, nor were there any teal on School Pond.
Other highlights: a single long tailed tit in a tree by the Fauna footpath near School Pond, a female reed bunting near the old alder tree and two meadow pipits in Big Meadow.
Jon was keen on extending the winter flush counts for a further month – and it was a worthwhile exercise. A total of 48 snipe were still on the reserve this morning, the ongoing cold weather encouraging them to stay. Breaking it down, there were 8 common snipe in the Hay Meadow (principally on the cut area of marsh to the north of Cromwell’s Pond), 3 in Upper Sowerholme, 16 in School Pond and 20 in Big Meadow, which also yielded the single jack snipe.
There was a mallard in the Hay Meadow, three in Big Meadow and eight teal still on School Pond, accompanied by a moorhen. Meadow pipits have arrived from Spain and were seen in Big Meadow. Jon also spotted a female sparrow hawk and a reed bunting flying over the reserve.
A sighting by Ruth who was another person tempted to walk around the reserve on Saturday evening by the lovely sunshine that followed the rain. She bumped into a birdwatcher friend who pointed out a reed bunting in a shrub, just over the fence before School Pond. It flew into Big Meadow before returning to the shrub. Ruth said: “If I’d have seen it on my own I’d have thought it was a sparrow”. Think I would have done too. The photograph on our Wildlife Sightings page is remarkably similar.
Ruth also spotted 5 starlings on the Fauna fence in Big Meadow. Good to have this report. One of the “feature birds” for the nature reserve, but I fear we tend to overlook it.