Sunday, 15 February 2009

A Winters Tale. 2nd Feb 2009.

With the heaviest snowfall for 18 years covering most of the south east of England the Chilterns were no exception. Even with weather reports informing the whole of the UK that severe weather was on it's way I wasn't totally sure what to expect, On Sunday evening I was still trying to track down a Woodcock that had been seen briefly near the cottage and as dusk approached the temperature dropped and the first snow started to fall leaving me in no doubt that something was on it's way. The first snow showers were quite aggressive with an inch or two laying very quickly before 6:30pm when as quickly as it had started the snow ceased to fall, nothing much happened for the rest of the evening and it wasn't until the early hours of Monday did things really get going. By 3am there was already a good covering of snow and it wasn't stopping, I couldn't believe the amount of snow and the speed at which it was falling. By morning the valley was covered by a layer of snow that stretched as far as the eye could see and the distant windmill at Turville Heath famed for it's starring role in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was now partly obscured during occasional bouts of snowfall.

I had filled the feeders the night before ready for any early morning arrivals in search of food and after surveying the surrounding countryside I watched to see what the garden had in store. Great, Blue and Coal Tit were already in situ along with Robin, Dunnock and Chaffinch, 3 male and 1 female Blackbird were surprisingly well behaved amongst each other with the female again taking charge of any unruly behaviour. I decided it was time to put out a few treats for the ground feeders and after finding a selection of wholemeal bread, fruit and the remainder of a rather expensive panettone cake I braved the elements outside. After scattering the food across the lawn and refilling the bird bath I scanned the orchard and fields next to the cottage. Our now regular pair of Red Kites were sat in the top of an old Apple tree viewing the fields, they looked rather cold and I did wonder how well these beautiful birds of prey would adapt to this weather that would certainly hamper their feeding, despite the area having an abundance of Rabbit and Pheasant the snow would have soon covered anything that hadn't made it through the night and the fields were now baron wastelands devoid of any life. Of course after getting my scope and attempting to get a photo of them they flew off, I thought it best to leave them rather than pursue them for the perfect snow shot as they would certainly need all the fat reserves they had to get them trough the severe weather.

I wandered back to the cottage hearing a Meadow Pipit calling as it flew overhead, it dropped down into a nearby field and I headed off to investigate. Although Meadow Pipit is quite a common species of bird I have never heard or seen one near the cottage before, I was lucky to see one perched on wires about a quarter of a mile away from the cottage earlier this year. After negotiating a number of hidden Rabbit burrows I set my scope up to view the field, the glare from the snow made it difficult to find anything and I was about to give up when I saw a flock of about 50 or more birds take to the air from the centre of the field which included both Skylark and Meadow Pipit. I watch ed as they swirled round the centre of the field coming down almost the same place they had taken of from. It does seem that there are good size flocks of both Skylark and Meadow Pipits in the area at the moment.

unsurprisingly the Black headed and Common Gulls that are present most days around the nearby fields were nowhere to be seen, a mixed flock of Carrion Crow, Rook, Jackdaw and Magpie were doing there best to forage in the downtrodden snow that the local sheep had carved across the snow covered fields.

We are pretty remote at the best of times and with the heavy snowfall the area seemed very cut-off to say the least, fields and woodland were covered with a blanket of snow as far as the eye could see and they were beckoning to be explored. Finding as many layers as we could get on we headed out in to what felt like Narnia and after traversing the fields we headed north east towards Adam's Wood stopping a the entrance of the wood to grab a few photos. The wood itself was eerily quiet, no sight or sound of any bird life and the silence was strange to say the least, it was almost like every living creature in the wood had be exiled leaving an incredible silence.

As we continued through the wood the first signs of bird life became obvious, a Red Kite perched in the tree tops took flight sending a cascade of snow from the branches to the woodland floor, a Nuthatch called from nearby and after tracking it's call we found it with a small flock of Blue and Great Tits as they searched the woodland for food. A Common Buzzard called as it drifted over and shortly after the delicate contact calls of a number of Goldcrests could be heard from the woodland interior.

After following the footpath through Adam's Wood we arrived at Little Frieth and soon encountered 4 Red Kites circling the fields, Blackbird, Robin, Blue and Great Tit were in good numbers along the gardens and hedgerows. Leaving Little Frieth along Shogmoor Lane a number of birds were scattered along the hedgerows, Dunnock, Blackbird, Blue & Great Tit and a possible male Blackcap, I say possible as the view was so brief I just didn't get a good enough view. The pond at the top of Shogmoor Lane was almost all frozen over with a number of Mallards keeping the remaining water unfrozen by swimming in it, 2 Moorhens were also present searching round the pound fringes for food. A good size flock of Greenfinches has been present in this area recently and along with Chaffinch and a few Goldfinches must have numbered somewhere in the region of 60 birds, feeding in 2 separate groups either side of the road they soon took flight as we walked the road between them. They sat nervously in the trees along the field edges and the noise of all these Finches calling together was incredibly loud.

At the top of shogmoor lane we could see a distant group of Red Kites circling over Fingest Wood, it was difficult to count exactly how many there were due to the snow showers and mist that was caused by the wind blowing surface snow across the fields. They seemed to be circling one particular area with some intent and on occasions would drop suddenly out of the sky and out of view behind the trees, I estimated that there were roughly 16 Kites but it could have been more.

We made our way along the footpath and in to Hill's Wood which like Adam's Wood was silent at first, a number of Blackbirds both male and female were encountered on the footpaths before they hastily flew deeper in to the woods and now and again the contact calls of Goldcrest could be heard. Finally a Robin appeared next to the footpath as if to see if we had anything to offer before it too disappeared in to the wood. 2 Common Buzzards passed over calling as they went and shortly after a Red Kite followed them but there was still little to be seen in the woodland itself. As we approached Hatchet Wood a Nuthatch was heard calling and at least 4 Goldcrest were calling to each other at the tops of nearby Conifer trees. We came to a clearing and watched as a Brown Hare suddenly shot out from the woodland in front of us, we obviously startled it from it's daytime resting place and it raced across the clearing with the speed and agility of a Olympic sprinter, it's long legs pushing it at great speed through the wood with it's long black-tipped ears held tightly against it's shoulders. Within 30 seconds it was gone and the only signs that it was ever there were the far spaced footprints that it left in the snow.

We continued along the footpath through Hatchet Wood walking on previously un-trodden snow, an almost fairytale landscape greeted us with snow covering the countryside and adorning almost every bow and branch throughout the wood. 2 Red Kites drifted over calling as they went and the odd cackling flock of Fieldfare passed across the tree tops overhead. Suddenly we noticed a bird take flight from the undergrowth just in front if us, we stood and watched as a dumpy looking bird with a long bill flew along the edge of the wood before dropping down again. We approached slowly only for the bird to take flight and fly further into the woods but this time it was clear to see that is was a Woodcock. I know they often can be found in open areas in times of severe weather and perhaps this was the reason why one turned up in the garden on the previous day, I was delighted to see this species so near to our home and will certainly be on the look out for Roding males in spring.

By the time we reached home we had added Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush and Redwing to our sightings for the day and our regular male Pheasant was tucking in to the leftovers in the garden

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