As many of you will no doubt have noticed it has been particularly mild in England the last three months or so, where I live there has only been a couple of weak frosts as temperatures are consistently above 10 degrees. This clement weather is a boon for wildlife as it gives them extra time to fatten up and gather food before winter really kicks in, insects have notably been still on the wing – something birds will no doubt have taken advantage of.
But despite the temperatures all the signs of winter have already arrived, I have seen many Redwings in the countryside and a few in my town feeding on hawthorn berries or moving high overhead. Their larger cousins the Fieldfares have also been here a while but are little more secretive and require a proper walk into the country to spot any.
I have seen many mixed bird flocks passing through hedges and woodlands recently – a winter phenomenon that is always a delight to see. Long-tailed tits are the main instigators of these roving parties and can number 10+ in any flock, they call constantly to each other as they poke their button-bills into bark and under buds in their search for tiny edibles. Other species do join though; usually other tit species such as Blue and Great and the occasional Coal, but it is the minuscule Goldcrest though that is the most reliable partner of the long-tails – often whistling its high-pitch tune as it moves. In particularly large flocks species such as Treecreeper, nuthatch or even Lesser spotted woodpeckers may be seen along with the regulars – though I have never seen a LSW in such a flock myself.
I was volunteering at my local park earlier today and while there I noticed a flock of 30-ish small birds feeding on Alder cones in some high trees, they were calling with twangy-tinkly sounds and had the distinctive forked tail of finches. I was without my binoculars and the light was poor but based on the calls and a few plumage details I could make out I am fairly sure they were Siskins – a lover of Alder seeds in winter.
In another part of the park I also came across a fairly old and disused mammal nest in some thick heather, it was made of bits of bracken and birch leaf and grass strips bundled into a very small ball – the size gave it away as an old Harvest mouse nest (or roost) probably from earlier this year. This was an exciting find and confirmed this elusive species presence on the heath, showing that the current management plan was working.
The last Sunday in November myself and John went for a birding trip to Weirwood reservoir, the weather was not exactly ideal but at least it wasn’t raining. A stray Great Northern Diver in winter plumage had been reported from this water so we searched long and hard from the bank for this unusual and impressive species. Hundreds and hundreds of Great Crested Grebes were bobbing upon the waves along with a few cormorants (which in the poor conditions looked rather like divers), a Green woodpecker and groups of winter thrushes were pleasant distractions. Just after lunch though we managed to locate the diver not far off from the near shore and we had excellent views of it diving (funnily enough) for food – it would seem that it is partial to crayfish (almost certainly Signal) as it came up with a large one in its bill.
Also of note; Robins and Song Thrushes have both been singing near my house recently – not unusual for the Robin as they sing almost all year and at present will already be finding partners for next season. So no doubt they are excited.
I have seen a few local foxes in the past few weeks, they seem to be getting noisy at night too, wonder whether this is pre-mating excitement or first-years having territorial arguments as they try to disperse.
So in all it is getting a little quiet for wildlife at the moment as most migration has stopped by now, invertebrates are gone from sight and the majority of winter bird species are here already. There is still plenty to enjoy though in the big flocks of wildfowl and waders at wetland sights, and the flocking of garden and farmland birds can hide scarce species.