Continuing where November left off, December has so far been largely damp and grey, but the unseasonably mild weather has seen the onward march of spring continue unabated around the arboretum. Those of you who've visited recently will have seen the now numerous swathes of daffodils in flower around the upper arboretum and several Camellias now blooming along the Spring Walk. The more eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed the first Snowdrops beginning to poke through the soil, particularly at the top of the Azalea Steps.
The birds too are getting into the swing of spring, as some of our resident species are now already in fine voice, particularly Song Thrush
and Great Tit
Other species becoming vocal lately include Mistle Thrush, Stock Dove, Blackbird, Dunnock, Robin and Wren, although the latter two do often sing right through the winter months.
Last year I heard the first drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker of the season in the arboretum on 27th December - I wonder if it'll be even earlier this year?
After a flurry of Brambling sightings last month I've only seen or heard them on five occasions so far in December - on the 1st, 2nd, 10th, 13th and 16th.
A Kingfisher has again become a regular visitor to Rowe's Flashe Lake, with one seen or heard most days recently. This iconic species sadly doesn't breed here but clearly at least one individual is overwintering in the area.
Other highlights on the lake recently include two Egyptian Geese on the 13th - the first record of this species actually 'on the deck' here in a while - and notably high counts of three Grey Heron and three Little Grebe on the 16th.
Water Rails have been heard regularly in Phillimore Wetlands and the Gunnera Swamp recently.
Just one record of Firecrest so far this month: one calling by the boathouse on the 2nd.
Although confined mainly to the Phillimore area during the breeding season, Marsh Tits roam around a bit more at this time of year and this week I have noted ones in the upper arboretum near to the tearoom and the public toilets.
Bullfinches are, as ever, a common sight and sound around the arboretum, although I haven't yet beaten my record of at least ten I counted around the place on 24th January this year.
John Rowland captured this nice photo of a male recently:
John also photographed a Cormorant down at Rowe's Flashe on the 15th.
Raptors have been represented so far in December by Kestrel, Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Red Kite (one over the Bowl on the 10th) and Peregrine (one over Rowe's Flashe on the 16th before flying southwest).
It's got to that time of year where it's more or less dark when I arrive for work in the morning and when I leave in the evening, so I've been hearing the odd hooting male Tawny Owl about the place, although I've yet to find the roosting individual that senior gardener Daniel discovered in the upper arboretum recently - do let me know if you see it!