Finally an encouraging flush count! In fact, the highest January total of snipe since the winter of 2014/15. 59 birds flushed including 5 jack snipe. Breakdown was 39 in Big Meadow, 7 in School Pond, 8 in the Hay Meadow, 4 in Upper Sowerholme plus one by the ponds in Flora Field. In addition, the first woodcock of the season was spotted in Upper Sowerholme.
There was a heron in Upper Sowerholme, probably the same one Graham had seen earlier in the Flora ponds and then in Willow Pond (Lower Sowerholme). Likewise the 6 teal seen in Upper Sowerholme and the 4 flying over Big Meadow were probably part of the group of 11 Graham had disturbed on Willow Pond. Also noted were a meadow pipit and a wren in Big Meadow and 4 female pheasants in Flora Field.
This morning’s tally of snipe was a measly 15 (including 1 jack). 14 flushed in Big Meadow, one in Hay Meadow. This season is running well behind. The total for the winter so far is standing at 73. In all but one of the previous years we have been over the 200 mark at this point.
Better news was the sighting of two woodcock in Upper Sowerholme by one of the team whilst the others were distracted by a roe deer. There were also five teal on School Pond.
A lovely morning for a flush count: warm, dry and with the trees still displaying their autumn colours. But the snipe were clearly less impressed. Graham had noted plenty around on his reserve inspection during the recent cold spell, but today’s tally was disappointing. Only 14 snipe flushed in total, 3 of them jack. There were 9 in Big Meadow, 4 in School Pond, and one in the Hay Meadow. Not even a fifth of the birds counted last November, when the temperature was 7 degrees C instead of 12.
But there were compensations. A woodcock was in Upper Sowerholme by the Lucy Brook willows. A heron flitted across from Anna’s Pool into Willow Pond, which is now holding water well. And the teal are back on School Pond, eleven flying up.
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.
An excellent tally for the third flush count of the season. 114 snipe counted, 4 of which were identified as Jack snipe. Big Meadow yielded 42 (3 Jack); School Pond 35; Hay Meadow a surprising 33 (1 Jack); Upper Sowerholme 2 and 1 in each of Flora Field and Lower Sowerholme. Cumulatively this winter’s total is running two months ahead of last winter.
But snipe were not the only birds on show. Twelve teal initially on Alder Pond were encountered again on School Pond, in the presence of a redshank. There were 3 redwing in the LGGS Field. In Big Meadow, two female pheasants were spotted and a water rail was disturbed close to the old Alder tree. Two woodcock flew off from amongst the willows along Lucy Brook in the Hay Meadow. A heron was seen by the Flora Ponds – seems to be a regular visitor here.
This morning’s flush count yielded an amazing total of 119 snipe! The breakdown was: Big Meadow 78 common and 7 jack; School Pond 23 common; Upper Sowerholme 8 common and a further 3 common in the Hay Meadow.
It was strange to be cracking through ice as we plodded through the marshes. With School Pond frozen over, the teal were having to look elsewhere. We saw a group of 9 flying around and finally settling by Lucy’s Pool where there was some open water. That corner of the Hay Meadow again yielded a woodcock and another two were spotted in Upper Sowerholme, along with a heron. Jon noted a female sparrow hawk flying over Big Meadow and a kingfisher flying over the Hay Meadow, probably going away from the canal. There was a wren in the hedge between the Hay and Big Meadows and another wren in the Big Meadow marsh close to the old alder tree. To round things off nicely, a brown hare ran along the edge of the marsh close to the Pads path, heading north until it saw us and turned back in the direction of Flora.
A very productive flush count in Fauna today, in marshes as wet as I think they have ever been. On his way over, Graham had already spotted two brown hares in Flora Field moving across to Pony Wood. The Hay Meadow yielded its first (solitary) snipe of the winter. Then from the back of Lucy’s Pool out flew a woodcock (an amber list bird). When we got into Upper Sowerholme proper, no less than six woodcock were seen, principally flying out of the scrub backing onto the Aldcliffe Road houses. In School Pond we disturbed 11 teal and 18 snipe. This is somewhat lower than expected. Jon thinks that, with the fresh water freezing over recent nights, some snipe may have have moved off to the estuary. It may also be explained by the fact that the water level is so high that quite of a lot of the rush has become part of the pond itself. Supporting this theory, numbers in the Big Meadow marsh were up, particularly at the northern end – a total of 52 common snipe and 4 jack snipe. It is quite disconcerting to have a jack snipe take off just as you are about to step on it! Then Graham almost stepped on a water rail! A sparrow hawk and group of starlings over-flying Big Meadow rounded the morning off nicely.
We were joined this morning by Jon Carter, whose expert eyes are a definite bonus. Despite the recent cutting of large swathes of the marsh vegetation, snipe numbers are up on last month and higher than this time last year. School Pond yielded 47 common snipe, and 1 jack. In Big Meadow we counted 23 common and 1 jack. Positive identification of the jacks (who have smaller beaks) thanks to Jon. He was also able to confirm that the unusual looking bird glimpsed flying across the far corner of Upper Sowerholme was a woodcock. And then picked up that there were at least another two. Given that woodcock has been spotted in this location before, Jon thinks it is a regular winter site for this species. School Pond is hosting more teal than it appears from the footpath. We eventually agreed on a total of 20, some of which had been hiding in the rushes.
Graham couldn’t have a picked a more glorious morning for doing a winter flush count in Fauna. Paul and I went along with him to provide extra pairs of eyes. Hardly a surprise given the amount of rain recently, but the marshes are holding a very good amount of water. Graham got first-hand evidence of this when his wellie sank into a particularly boggy bit and water plus liquid mud started to run down inside it.
Two snipe were seen in School Pond, but the Big Meadow marsh was again the star. 42 snipe counted here, particularly encouraging as the numbers should build as the winter progresses. We also disturbed a brown hare. It shot out of the north end of the marsh, wheeled left and ran down by the fence on the Pads path following the edge of the marsh. It bobbed back into the marsh, but then spotted us again and turned away to carry on southwards between the Pads path and the marsh edge. My initial glimpse was of its white tail going away. but then we were treated to very clear views once it was running along out of the reeds.
Richard Storton (RSPB) has also been in Fauna this morning, planting a few extra phragmites in Upper Sowerholme. He was pleased to report that the seedlings we had planted in August 2012 seem to be establishing quite well. Some are already approaching 1m in height. He spotted 4 snipe (refugees from our earlier sweep of Big Meadow?). He also caught a glimpse of a woodcock.