I spent the first part of February on the Island of Anglesey in North Wales, an area of the country I love and try to visit a couple of times every year. As you might expect in early February, the weather was not always conducive to long walks on the coast path but none the less a lot of time was spent outside in a biting wind with my binoculars and camera while wrapped up as warmly as possible! The first priority was to see the local red squirrels there, and I was lucky to see several just a short walk from where I was staying. The gardens of this large house are well managed but that does not mean they are devoid of wildlife. Up to four bullfinches were seen every day, feeding on the buds of a Prunus in the garden and large areas of short grass attracted feeding redwings and fieldfares. There were also plenty of song and mistle thrushes around. Outside the garden curlews were abundant, collecting together at dusk every evening in an adjacent field. Perhaps the highlight of this trip though was an amazing encounter with a very visible male snow bunting in the car park of a local pub! Sadly choughs were not seen as it was dangerously windy at South Stack where I would normally find them. Once home again in my garden in South Shropshire, the week was dominated by bitterly cold weather but there were still lots of tits and finches around the bird feeders and a male sparrowhawk and female kestrel were regular visitors, plus a buzzard sat around in our little copse of trees on a daily basis. At the end of the week a small tortoiseshell butterfly was found inside the house and carefully relocated to the shelter of the wood store in the garden.
The second week of February saw some very bad weather here with a series of severe storms, the first of which came overnight on the 9th and 10th, with howling gales and rain that caused flooding and damage in many parts of the UK. We however were lucky enough to miss the very worst of it. We had a little snow on the 10th and a small flock of twenty redwings spent some time feeding in the garden and in the field next door. On the 9th, a glimpse of movement in the smallest of our ponds heralded the arrival of several frogs and a large amounts of spawn appeared, our earliest for many years. All the usual bird species returned to the feeders after our time away, with goldfinch numbers building up and a pair of siskins visiting daily. There were also daily visits from a blue tit with a deformed, elongated beak, but it seemed to be coping very well and feeding along with other tits and finches on the bird feeders. As the week came to an end the promise of yet another storm and the possibility of some flooding in our house threatened. Storm Dennis took us by surprise. We were expecting very windy weather but not the amount of rain that South Shropshire and the surrounding counties received. Living on the side of a hill has its advantages but the amount of rain that fell was extraordinary, and once again the garden was flooded after torrential rain overnight of the 15th and 16th, plus my ground floor office again had problems with water finding its way in. Our small local road became a torrent and in several places the tarmac was washed away. The wet conditions however encouraged the local frogs to continue spawning and we had more spawn than we have for several years. A single female house sparrow appeared on one of our hedges on the 18th – a most unusual bird for us and a male appeared the next day. On the 20th, while the weather was still very wet and windy, the local small birds were feeding desperately on the feeders and more than 40 blue tits were counted in the garden. On the 20th the wonderful sound of a mistle thrush singing was heard – he was in our ash tree braving the weather and was a delight to listen to – reminding me that spring will eventually come!
The last week of this awful month began with yet more rain and fierce, freezing winds. On a more positive note though there were a few primrose flowers appearing around the garden, creating a slightly spring-like feel in spite of the very cold weather. Several blue tits were seen investigating the nest boxes around the garden and the pair of house sparrows looked as though they might hang around as they continued to chirp from the top of the hedge. The large rambling jasmine on one of our house walls is looking like a potential nest site for them although the male was also seen investigating the house martin nest cups under the eaves. On the 25th a barn owl was seen flying low around the garden and one was also seen a short distance from us a few days later. The month ended with more of the same as far as the weather was concerned although the occasional bit of sunshine made a difference! February ended with a huge flock of several hundred chaffinches feeding in the field next door. A few came into the garden, the males’ pink breasts brightening up what had been a very wet, cold and windy month. I am really looking forward to more spring like conditions in March!