The beginning of the new year was very cold here in South Shropshire and snowy but intermittently bright weather persisted for the whole of the first week. The local female sparrowhawk, now a very regular visitor, was seen daily, either sitting in the large apple tree at the back of my house or outside my office windows in the alder buckthorn shrub – quite oblivious to movement by me but obviously keeping her eye on the bird feeders for her next meal. There was still plenty of snow on the Long Mynd, visible as a white blanket like icing on a cake. The pair of local red kites continued to soar and dive at each other over the fields round about us, and they were sometimes joined by a buzzard which was making regular forays to the largest of the oak trees in the damp woodland at the end of my garden. This tree is a favourite spot for carrion crows to nest and last year they won the battle with the local buzzards, for possession of this hotly contested nesting place. The weather continued to be very cold which brought large numbers of smaller birds to feed, especially tits and finches, and it was also good to see a treecreeper every day in the largest of our apple trees, searching for small invertebrates, branch by branch, in their entertaining, methodical way. Also a pair of robins was seen several times in the hedge outside my office this week, and at times their melancholy, rather wistful song could be heard.
The weather became much colder in the second week of the month and the garden was full of sparkling frost on the morning of the 7th. A single fieldfare and a redwing were seen outside on that day, birds that had not been around for a while. In general this has been a bad winter for fieldfares, and our orchard, with the ample food it provides for this species, has been largely devoid of winter thrushes since Christmas. The whole garden however was glittering first thing, and Crawl Wood, on our boundary looked especially beautiful with frost coating every branch and twig. A single house sparrow appeared in the garden on the 7th and six magpies congregated in the field maple at the end of the long borders. This tree is always in demand by nesting corvids and the magpies usually win this particular battle, reusing the existing nest, but adding a few more large twigs each year. A female kestrel also flew into this field maple on the 8th and returned a couple of times that week. On the 9th the same tree was full of starlings and 68 were counted. There was a little more snow this week but nothing that really persisted for long, and wet and windy weather soon returned although there was a little welcome sunshine sometimes in the afternoons. Temperatures increased at the end of the week but there were still no redwings or fieldfares in the garden at all. A single, welcome lesser celandine was seen in flower in the vegetable garden on the 13th and on the 14th the mass of snowdrops on the verge outside the garden was showing hints of white as the flowers began to reveal their delicate snowy bells. There was no sight or sound of a mistle or song thrush this week, but the robins were still singing at the end of the week, and a bullfinch was heard softly hooting in the orchard. The kites continued their acrobatic display over the garden and two wood mice were seen in the potting shed!
The third week of January began with bright, cold weather with even more birds using the bird feeders, especially tits and finches. Siskin numbers were slowly increasing but there were still only four or five, far fewer than in previous years here. Locally a huge flock of linnets was feeding on a nearby field – something we see here most winters, and they seen flying through the garden on the 17th – estimated at around 200 birds, amazing to both see and to hear! The weather became slightly milder and sunny at times but as usual there were warnings of gales and snow arriving from the west. There was indeed snow late on the evening of the 20th which continued overnight but it did not persist for long. However it was followed by icy winds and torrential rain. A few fieldfares returned to the fallen apples in the orchard, but there were hints of spring, as at last a song thrush was heard singing in the early mornings from the woodland next door – one of the most beautiful sounds I know! On the 21st the female sparrowhawk returned, sitting in her usual place outside my office and a female brambling returned to feed from the seeds under the bird feeders.
The last week of January saw the snow persisting, but thankfully, from my perspective at least, it was gone by the 22nd. Brighter, sunnier days meant that more birds were singing around the garden now including great tit and dunnock as well as the song thrush. Numbers of all the regular smaller bird species increased and a single marsh tit was seen daily. The sparrowhawk returned to her usual spot after an absence of two weeks and one of our regular moorhens returned to the pond.
Perhaps the most exciting visitor here in January was a willow tit which came to the feeders. This now very scarce little bird was a regular visitor when we first created the garden here, largely due, I am sure, to the damp woodland on our boundary, but this was the first I had recorded for a couple of years – and a fitting end to my least favourite month of the year. Hopefully a little sunnier, slightly warmer weather is on the way!
With such cold frosty weather I am certainly looking forward to milder temperatures as we move into spring next month!