Another mixed two or three weeks on the weather front here. The day after I posted my previous blog post we had our first, and so far only, notable snowfall of the winter and the arboretum looked lovely and wintry for a few hours until it all turned to soggy mush by lunchtime. Indeed, that third week of January saw Rowe's Flashe Lake frozen over for several days, and the ducks looked rather unimpressed as they huddled patiently on the surface for the thaw.
|Frozen Rowe's Flashe|
|This Little Grebe managed to find the only area of unfrozen water|
- right in front of the boathouse
As I write this now (6th Feb), however, there is a fierce south-westerly wind roaring through the trees in the upper arboretum and the temperature is a balmy 12 degrees celsius. These extremes of weather have done little to detract from the fact that this winter has so far been exceptionally mild and the frantic rush of plants growing and flowering weeks or even months ahead of schedule continues. In addition to the carpets of Daffodils, Snowdrops and Primroses around the place, this past week the senior gardener and I have discovered the first Magnolias and Azaleas beginning to bloom, and just this morning I found this little flower spike out on Sorbus Hill amongst the myriad green spikes pushing through the leaf litter. Any guesses?
|Yes, incredibly, it's a Bluebell! In February!|
Don't worry though - I'm sure the best displays are still several weeks away yet
On the bird front it was interesting to note a little flurry (pun intended!) of cold weather movement on the 'snow day' (17th Jan) with eight Bramblings and nine Crossbills flying south in the afternoon, while on the 20th there were two Bramblings briefly in a tree along the Spring Walk before they flew off north-east. Gull movement has noticeably picked up recently too, with plenty of Common Gulls moving west most mornings, and on the 20th a Great Black-backed Gull few south-east around lunchtime - my only record to date of this species here.
On 20th Jan and 6th Feb I heard a Water Rail calling in the Phillimore Wetland - this species seems to have been a bit more elusive this winter than last. On the morning of the 25th, while I was carrying out the morning site check, I was surprised to see a Tawny Owl fly out of a conifer near the carved throne seat and disappear into the trees near the boathouse. In fact, so seldom have I seen Tawny Owls flying in daylight it took me a moment to realise what I was looking at! Meanwhile, on the morning of 3rd February I stumbled across a couple of Red-legged Partridges scurrying into the brambles at the south end of Rowe's Flashe Meadow - my first record of this species here in 2016.
|Common Gulls circling over the Spring Walk|
|Looking east across the Badger's Bowl to the Wintershall Estate beyond|
The amount of bird song here is increasing almost daily now, particularly on fine sunny mornings (when we get them!) when it's possible to hear at least ten species singing on a short walk around the upper arboretum, including Chaffinch, Stock Dove, Great Tit, Mistle Thrush, Song Thrush, Collared Dove and Coal Tit. Great Spotted Woodpeckers can now be heard drumming regularly too. On the bird of prey side of things, both Buzzard and Sparrowhawk have been a regular sight recently, the latter beginning to display overhead, again on fine days. On 1st February there were two Red Kites circling together over the lower arboretum first thing in the morning, the local Jackdaws doing their best to chase them off! Just after noon on the 6th a Peregrine flew south over the gardeners' work yard, looking like it was struggling somewhat as it battled straight into the strong wind. My first one here this year.
The local Roe Deer are still around - I stumbled across this group of five on Sorbus Hill first thing in the morning a couple of weeks ago. They really are so well camouflaged against the carpet of dried bracken.