With the onset of a colder spell of weather, we were hoping for a high count of snipe this morning. The reality was another modest tally. With the marshes frozen, the estuary is probably a more attractive feeding ground. The breakdown was 22 common snipe and 3 jack; 5 of the birds jumping out of the rush around School Pond, the rest flushed in Big Meadow.
The highlight was a very close and clear sighting of a female sparrowhawk. She took off from the depths of the Big Meadow marsh and landed at the top of the ash tree by the bend in the Fauna path. She may well have been responsible for the two pigeon carcasses spotted in Upper Sowerholme. Field voles seem to be present in good numbers in the Hay Meadow. They have been nibbling the rushes and were seen running about. A heron took off from the vicinity of Friars Pond, and there were several meadows pipits in Big Meadow.
A lovely sunny morning for the final flush count of the winter. The highlight was the four jack snipe found in Big Meadow, unexpected this late in the season. They were demonstrating typical jack behaviour: taking off when almost stood on, making no sound, no noise of wings and landing back into the marsh a short way on. Even if their smaller size and shorter bill can’t be seen this is enough to distinguish them from common snipe. Including these jacks, the total number of snipe flushed was 17: 12 in Big Meadow, 2 in Hay Meadow and 3 in Upper Sowerholme. About par for this time of year.
Total snipe sightings for the 2017/18 season were 351. After an excellent start, this final result is slightly lower than the last three years. Notably numbers in School Pond have been disappointing: 54 this winter, against 100+ in previous years. But compensated to an extent by a rise in Big Meadow, the 238 counted this winter being only slightly below the 2014/15 peak.
Other sightings as we walked around were: a kestrel flying over the Hay Meadow; a late redwing in Carr House Meadow; in Upper Sowerholme frogspawn in the Channel, 2 teal, a male pheasant; in School Pond 5 teal joined by the 2 from Upper Sowhrholme, a moorhen and two mallards; in Big Meadow another two mallards, a brown hare, and a female sparrow hawk overflying. Heard were a chiffchaff by Lucy Brook and a greater spotted woodpecker.
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.
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.
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.
The first flush count of 2014 took place in driving rain and buffeting wind. Not surprisingly the marshes were awash – as was the inside of my wellys by the end. In the gloomy light, with glasses streaked with rain, it was not always easy to spot the birds flying up. Nevertheless, we achieved a good tally of snipe: 48 in School Pond, 49 (plus one jack snipe) in Big Meadow, and a single bird each for the Hay Meadow and Upper Sowerholme. Highlight was a sparrowhawk (probably male, from the size) that flew over and back above our heads as we stood in the middle of Big Meadow.