We delayed a week because of strong winds and I was starting to think we would have to do so again. But it’s the southern part of the country that has born the brunt this time and so we ‘just’ had to combat a rain squall and more water underfoot than ever. A more rewarding snipe count this time: 80 snipe overall, double last month’s number. Breakdown: 1 found in Flora Field, 1 in Upper Sowerholme, 4 in the Hay Meadow, 19 in Big Meadow (including 1 jack) and 55 in School Pond (3 of them jack). In addition. there was a moorhen on School Pond and 8 teal in Willow Tree Pond (Lower Sowerholme). Later the same group of teal flew up as we entered the Big Meadow marsh and headed back in the direction of Lower Sowerholme.
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.
After the dryness of the early autumn, the marshes are now awash. And the snipe are coming back in numbers, although with the temperatures remaining above average we did not count quite as many as in the last two years. Total count today was 45, broken down as 11 common snipe in School Pond, 32 common and 1 jack in Big Meadow and surprisingly a sighting of one in Pony Wood. In addition, there was a group of eight flying round. Despite the fog, Jon was able to follow them for quite a while, but they did not appear to land on the reserve. We also saw a small group fly up as we approached the Big Meadow marsh, disturbed by three dogs off the lead on the footpath. So overall quite a good number of snipe around.
Other sightings included a heron on the Grammar School Field, three teal on School Pond, a sparrow hawk above the Hay Meadow and 4 meadow pipits in Big Meadow.
Jon has also had a sighting of the barn owl, and advises going out at dusk for the best chance of seeing it.
Our first foray of the winter through the marshes this morning raised a total of 7 snipe: one in each of the Hay Meadow, School Pond and Flora Field, and a further four in Big Meadow. Small numbers, but still more than the past two years at this early part of the season. Extra sightings were a jay in the Hay Meadow, a kestrel over Lower Sowerholme and a wren in Upper Sowerholme.
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.
Today’s snipe tally was double the number recorded for early March in the past two years. A total of 81 birds, of which 6 were positively identified as Jack snipe. The Hay Meadow took us by surprise as five snipe took off right away, followed by another three. Eight is most we have found in this field. This marsh is really boggy now with loads of standing water. Perhaps they prefer these wetter conditions? Upper Sowerholme yielded seven common snipe. School Pond – more pond than rushes at the moment – provided the first Jack of the day as well as 25 common snipe. Then in Big Meadow we counted 35 common snipe and a further five Jack.
Only one woodcock today, as usual in the brambly corner of Upper Sowerholme. But lots of other birds to compensate:
* two water rail in Lucy Brook close to the Cromwell Road gate
• 20 redwing flying over from Pony Wood to land in the trees on the edge of Big Meadow
• four female pheasants in the Hay Meadow
* a total of 11 teal flying off from School Pond in ones and twos
* a moorhen and four mallards in School Pond (all possibly seen again in Big Meadow)
• three wrens in the vicinity of the old alder tree in Big Meadow
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.
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.
At least eight teal on School Pond yesterday morning (27th), then in the afternoon as well as teal scuttling among the rush was a bigger bird, bigger than a mallard I thin, on the water preening itself. Could this be the sheller Jon mentioned? Too dark and murky to make a good identification.
Jay in Sunnyside Lane