14 February 2010

Back on patch: winter in Leam Valley

As well as the plentiful bounty of estuary watching and twitching, there is a third type of birding to be enjoyed / endured at this time of year - the dutiful trudge round the local patch to make sure nothing unexpected is overwintering there.

I say endured because a local patch like mine, an inland mosaic of river, wood, shallow pools, scrub and meadows, is not at its birding best in mid-February - far from it in fact. But I cannot imagine anything more soul destroying than missing some scarcity or other so close to home, and so I try to make as many visits as weather and enthusiasm allow.

Given all my reservations, this morning at Leam Valley was fine. Uneventful, true, but the weather was bright and there were at least a few birds on offer. Great and blue tits were most in evidence, along with blackbirds wherever there was a patch of thawed mud to be probed. Dunnock and chaffinch song hailed the very earliest glimmers of spring, as did a couple of singing song thrushes (although I would have expected more based on previous years).

Less commonly, a pair of mistle thrushes were vocal in trees high above me, two cormorants were in a tree down by the Offchurch Bury weir, and eight teal, a record for me at Leam Valley, sailed out of reeds at the far end of the scrape. Three goldcrest were feeding furiously having survived the recent freezes, and a solitary skylark let forth a brief snatch of song.

The reserve itself was in fine fettle, with the three main reedbeds looking much more solid and well-established than in their early years. New fencing around the scrape should also help keep breeding birds safe come the spring, so fingers crossed for more wading birds and wildfowl records. On a less positive note, as well as the relative paucity of song thrush song compared with previous years, I was sad to see no discernable activity at the small rookery on the edge of the playing fields. From 14 nests in 2007 we now appear to have just six derelict nests left, and I can only assume the site has been abandoned.

Bird of the day: Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo), a distinctive, almost reptilian coastal bird which has ventured inland more and more over recent years, particularly in winter. A most welcome addition to the River Leam in recent winters (unless you're a fish of course).

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