To be honest, I know how it went for some RSPB members and Nature's Home readers because some of your results forms, as well as letters, photographs and emails about your Birdwatch have been keeping me entertained during the week. We'll be using a selection in the April issue. As ever, there have been some surprising visitors and plenty of great stories.
It was great to see several of you picking up on my mention of my house sparrow flock in my Editor's welcome in Nature's Home January 2016. Good to know that so many readers also have flocks a ta time when this bird is not doing so well.
I have to confess that I was a bit late in getting the full compliment of birdfood out for the Birdwatch (I always put a few special extras out for the big day!), so I was a bit worried the sparrows wouldn't come. They kept us waiting. It wasn't until the second half of the hour until suddenly starting to pour in to the feeders. We had a final count of 14 which was pretty good considering the mild winter we're having.
Just one starling arrived and in typical fashion, the day after the count they built to three!
Starling by Eleanor Bentall (rspb-images.com) - was it on your list?
The biggest surprise though was a female reed bunting that made a brief appearance - the first of the winter. It's amazing how that concentrated one hour of watching reveals so much action and surprises. I was also very pleased to have a song thrush singing, which is still on territory this morning. He was perched in one of our trees so was a nice addition to the list as well.
There's plenty of time to submit your results, so please do so if you haven't had a chance yet.
The Nature’s Home Skills page is proving popular, soIi thought I’d share some tips to see a species that is very much in the spotlight at this time of year: the woodcock
The floodlights in the car park here at RSPB HQ are proving very helpful at the moment when it comes to seeing this, one of our most elusive birds.
Woodcocks are NOT easy to find on the ground like this (Stanley Porter - rspb-images.com), so witnessing a dusk flight is the most reliable way to see one.
Floodlit fly-byI was walking to my car one afternoon last week when three barrel-bodied shapes shot past, twisting among the trees before vanishing into the darkness.
Woodcocks do breed in the UK and you can see their roding display flight in spring and summer, but winter sees much greater numbers following the arrival of birds form the continent in autumn with peak arrivals coinciding with the full moon – apparently.
Summer woodland scene (complete with woodcock) commissioned from the frankly excellent illustrator Chris Shields especially for Nature's Home magazine that appeared in the April 2014 Nature by Night feature.
Enter the twilight zoneSpend a bit of twilight time (currently c16.00-16.15 here in Eastern England) standing in a spot with an all round view in or by woodland or scrub. Woodcocks are crepuscular, active at dawn and dusk, and they fly out form daytime roosts at this time to feed. Try to make sure you are standing with the sky providing a backdrop as that will make the birds easier to spot.
Look out for a chunky form weaving between the trees (Mike Langman - rspb-images.com - another fantastic Nature's Home illustrator)
You’ll need to be quick though because not only is the light poor, they don’t hang around and fly at or above head height usually quickly past. Look for a chunky shape with broad wings and if you see it silhouetted against the sky, you'll see the longish, down-pointed straight beak. If you see one, there could well be more so keep looking, or try again another evening. It's great fun and keeps you on your toes trying to spot them!
The soon to be printed January Nature’s Home has fieldcraft skills from three experts (he says modestly, as one of them is written by me), so please let us know how you get on with your wildlife watching by emailing me direct at: email@example.com or by leaving a comment below.
When I went away on holiday for three weeks at the end of last month, I knew that returning to the UK would mean very short daylight hours, the first frosts and the end of what's been a tremendous year of insect encounters. Basically, I knew winter would have arrived.
I had quite a surprise then, when taking my first back around The Lodge to find dragonflies still around the newly created natterjack ponds on the new heath. This was on Monday 16 November and temperatures were hovering around the 10 degrees mark with the sun shining strongly. A single migrant hawker and three common darters were at large. No doubt among the very last of the 2015 generation.
When the skies suddenly cleared on Friday 20th and the sun came through I wondered if they were still alive. Frosts (the first, I presumed, of the winter) were forecast over the weekend, so I was pretty sure this would be my last chance of the year to see a dragonfly. Would they still be around?
Common darter by Gordon Langsbury (rspb-images.com). When did you see your last of 2015?
It took a while but eventually a common darter lifted into the air and landed on the fence railing to bask in what is one of the sunniest spots on the reserve. This was a male, but a female appeared and was even ovipositing (laying eggs) in one of the ponds as a third male watched on. There was no sign of the hawker, but these were easily my latest ever dragonflies.
The record though for The Lodge’s latest ever common darter is 1st December, so incredibly as it seemed to see these insects still active in late November, I’ll have to try harder next year!