The first week of December was bright and quite cold in South Shropshire with a very heavy frost on the first of the month. There were still plenty of goldfinches feeding around the garden and a single male house sparrow visited us on the first of the month, and again on the third – an unusual bird for this garden. A marsh tit was seen most days, generally caching sunflower hearts amongst the vegetation in one of the borders, but there was no sign of bramblings or siskins. A couple of fieldfares continued to feed in the orchard but we have certainly not had our usual winter numbers yet and no redwings for some weeks. Sleety snow fell on the afternoon of the third and the week continued to be generally quite cold but with no frost. A little snow fell on the Long Mynd on the 7th creating a lovely view from my windows, but I was quite glad not to have a snowy garden! The male sparrow continued to be seen most days, usually in the hedge next to the bird feeders but on the 7th a very bold and very visible female sparrowhawk appeared, sitting quietly in one of the apple trees at the back of the house for some considerable time, which rather upset the more regular bird visitors. She then flew to the alder buckthorn outside my office windows and I continued to see her on a daily basis. There were plenty of other birds feeding this week and the goldfinch flock reached twenty five individuals. No mammals were seen at all though, with the exception of a few rabbits.
Between twenty and thirty goldfinches were regularly using the feeders during the second week of the month and they were often accompanied by a good number of chaffinches. A couple of female siskins visited from time to time plus a single male this week, but unlike last winter no large numbers were recorded. On the 12th the female sparrowhawk sat for some time in a hazel tree outside my kitchen window, plus a male also appeared and she joined him as he flew off high over the garden and adjacent fields. The weather this week was variable but generally very mild with many trees and shrubs still in full leaf, in particular the alder buckthorn. Lots of goldfinches were using the small feeding tray outside the kitchen window as well as the nyger feeders in other parts of the garden. Just one rabbit was seen this week, trying to find its way out of the garden by wriggling under the gate! A couple of grey squirrels were around daily but did not seem very interested in the bird feeders. Good numbers of chaffinches and greenfinches continued to visit but nothing unusual was recorded. The single marsh tit continued to be seen daily.
During the third week of December goldfinches continued to dominate the feeders –the flock now at around 40 individuals one day. The weather was still very mild for the time of year but wet at the start of the week, with both drizzly and some very heavy rain. The pond in the field next door expanded rapidly until it overflowed into my vegetable plot and the whole garden was saturated underfoot. No fieldfares or redwings were seen this week but there were lots of tits and finches all around. A treecreeper was seen frequently in the big apple tree and the female sparrowhawk continued to visit every day, and was once seen catching a goldfinch. At least two tawny owls were heard most evenings and one was also seen flying up onto the roof of the house. However, the weather changed this week to wet, wild and windy bringing even more birds to the garden and a small group of four or five long-tailed tits began to use the feeders every day, mostly arriving in the late afternoon. And a single beautiful jay was also seen most days.
The last week of the year was cold, wet and very windy at times. All the regular birds continued to use the feeders or take advantage of the fallen fruit in the orchard, and the female sparrowhawk continued to sit in her favourite spots around the garden every day, often in the shrub outside my office window, giving me many opportunities to photograph her, or on the railings outside my kitchen! As the month came to an end we began to see snow overnight as temperatures dropped and this colder weather continued until the very end of December. The cold snowy conditions saw the numbers of smaller birds built up again, especially the chaffinches and long tailed tits. A single bank vole was seen under the feeders on a couple of occasions and seemed to be wisely taking away food and caching it under the patio paving! The month ended with persistent light snow, very icy winds and a pair of red kites swooping and diving together over the garden and the surrounding fields. It certainly looks as though we will have these magnificent birds nesting locally again next year.