Garden in morning sunlight 7 12 10

Well, the cold spell is really biting here at Campfield. The estuary and Reserve are looking splendid - this will of course be of no surprise to you all. You too will be experiencing winter in your own ways! This is the earliest cold snap we can remember in our lifetime and we have lived for many moons. For us, the most dramatic feature has been the arrival of the Woodcock into the garden. First two, progressing to five and then to eight. However, this morning at first count, ten individuals were happily feeding at the far end of the lawn under the trees.

 There had been a fresh fall of snow last night but that had not curtailed their feeding. The ground is obviously soft enough under the snow to allow them to probe deeply with their long sensitive bills which they do with great success, obtaining worms regularly. Have watched these shy birds feeding through the scope for several days now. Their method is to plunge their bill deep into the ground and then pause, obviously sensing what’s going on underground. If nothing results, they move on quickly and probe again. But, generally speaking, they seem to get results one in every three probes. There must be thousands if not millions of worms in the lawn, as they seem to feed almost continually throughout the hours of daylight, and for all one knows, all night too. They are particularly attracted to areas of leaf-litter under the trees and hedges which this last two Autumns has been deliberately left in anticipation of this eventuality. The leaf-litter also benefits other species, particularly all the thrush family, as it also seems to provide them with an endless source of food throughout the winter.

Video - Woodcock searching for worms in leaf-litter under snow 8 12 10

Video - Three Woodcock feeding together 6 12 10

We do, of course, have several conventional bird feeding stations throughout the property but the Woodcock are not interested in these at all - in the sense of consuming the food that falls to the ground when other birds are feeding at the station. They seem to feed exclusively on worms and whatever else they obtain from beneath the surface.

 Generally speaking, the concept surrounding the Woodcock is that of a shy retiring nocturnal creature, but certainly in this time of intense cold, this does not seem to be the case. They come happily out into the open on the lawn and the damson orchard area - moving rapidly about. They actually have an amazing turn of speed on the ground and whilst not being essentially aggressive in nature will very readily defend themselves against allcomers. For example, we have on a regular basis visiting Magpies, Jackdaws and Crows: this morning there were 10 Magpies in the garden; about 30 Jackdaws flew away when we opened the curtains and we also have 2 resident Crows who nest each year here - so as you see, we are well represented by the corvid family.

 When the Woodcock started to arrive in the garden, the Magpies thought this was great sport, They did not seem to be totally at ease with them however, treating them with a mixture of aggression and curiosity - jumping about and buffeting and generally making a nuisance of themselves. This is what Magpies do! After several rapid and aggressive moves by the Woodcock towards them, they showed the Magpies where they stood in the pecking order. The fast moving Woodcock, with what amounts to being a lance in the front of its head, quickly sent the Magpies on their way in no uncertain terms (link to video) They now leave them well alone and allow the Woodcock to pursue their peaceful habits.

Video - Woodcock and the Magpies 3rd December 2010 

 Magpies are a quarrelsome lot and frequently bicker and fight amongst themselves - lowering the tone of the neighbourhood, as it were! Interestingly the Crows are an alpha species in the area and run a tight ship. When the Magpies, and to some degree the Jackdaws, get out of hand, the Crows will instantly descend upon those miscrients - much like the old village bobbies used to do - and send them packing. The presence of the Crows and Magpies in the immediate area has many advantages to the smaller and more vulnerable species of birds in the sense of giving protection from all the raptor species, who they will rapidly escort from the area. Also cats, foxes and stoats lives are made a misery should they enter the location. Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Harrier, Kestrel and Merlin occasionally try their luck but are invariably forcefully reminded that their presence is not required.

 Amusingly the Crows, now that the Woodcock are present, strutt around the place in a friendly and proprietorial manner - making sure that their new guests are comfortable and have everything they want. The two species seem to get on remarkably well together.

 So, at present, all seems well in the winter garden and we are beginning to wonder just how many more Woodcock will arrive from the surrounding Campfield Marsh Reserve, should the cold spell continue?

Woodcock seen roosting at dawn at the bottom of the garden 7 12 10

 Four Woodcock together on an icy morning 6 12 10

 Three huddled together resting 6 12 10

Enjoying the winter sunshine 6 12 10

Woodcock profile 6 12 10

Probing for worms 6 12 10

Having a good stretch 6 12 10

Resting after all that feeding activity 6 12 10