Stuck for something to do with the family this week?
Why not get along to Middleton Lakes and make your very own next box to take away?
As part of National Nest Box week we're helping families make their own box by providing the materials, the know-how and advice on where to site your new next box.
Now is the perfect time to put a box up in your garden so you could be watching your very own family of birds grow.
Come along between 10.30 and 3pm on Sunday 12th, Tuesday 14th or Sunday 19th. You'll be glad you did!
Winter continued with a dash of spring. It was mild and blustery at times with some days having temperatures reaching up to 13C. Then cold weather came, with frosty mornings, coatings of white everywhere and icy lakes, which later thawed.
The mild weather and plenty of rain brought the muddy conditions - definitely walking or wellington boot conditions. One young visitor called us "Muddieton", which he meant kindly because he had great fun when he was allowed to wade in the puddles to clean his boots, as children do. But for many others it was no longer Middleton Lakes but the top place for a walk, "Topton Lakes", as it has been called by visitors who keep coming back for more, in all seasons. Others said: it was "a great adventure" or "We love coming back as often as we can ... it's entrancing" or "Thanks for the heronry corner bird feeding station, only a small stroll from the car-park".
Later, the occasional cold weather made the walking to the lakes easier as the frozen mud crunched under our feet.
We watched blackbirds sitting in the rose and hawthorn bushes before and after guzzling hips and berries. We noticed that hawthorn and wild rose twigs with berry and hip husks were strewn along the bridleway – signs that the huge flocks of fieldfare, redwing and redpoll had feasted well on nature's food basket. In the autumn, the bridleway was called berry alley – with the wild rose and the hawthorn in fruit. Now it's called 'woodpecker way' since we could see or hear all three, if you were lucky. Yes, lesser spotted woodpecker was seen along the bridleway, occasionally a pair – so still plenty of food in the woods.
Most mornings, we heard a great spotted woodpecker drumming in the woods behind the heronry. The local buzzard was seen feeding in the horse field by the lucky few. A bullfinch, with its white rump, was seen flying into Villa wood as visitors drove to the car-park.
At the feeders, we noticed that a nuthatch would eat both nuts and seeds, moving between the feed holders. A pair of great spotted woodpeckers was seen at the feeders.
We heard the full song of the cetti's warbler, dunnock, great tit, mistle thrush, robin, skylark, song thrush and wren.
A visitor at the car-park showed us a flock of lapwings, some 300, flying over the wetlands (a half mile away). Later, a flock of rooks flew over the farm, on the way to the rookery. A swan was seen picking up bits of twigs – getting ready for nest building –early signs of spring. This warm weather is causing interesting changes in winter habits.
Another visitor told us about a friendly (or fearless) robin that was coming from the woods to people's outstretched hands if they just happened to have some seeds or raisins in them – just by the wooden bridge next to the British Waterway meadow.
There was a lot more heronry activity – birds were seen flying to the heronry and landing in the hidden back pools – starting to claim their feeding sites. Others were seen standing sentinel-like on the top outer edge of a tree. The branch was not bending. The birds are big but quite light.
We saw five herons in the heronry, in the mild first week, and then twelve in the next mild week, as the birds started to claim their places in the forthcoming nest-place race. It then turned wet and cold and the places became vacant, with a few daily visitors. They probably did not roost during the cold nights. A few (sometimes 15) herons were seen later in the mild and damp third week – they were squawking as territories were being marked out. There were about seven at the end of the cold month. Only a few braved the cold nights.
A smew (mainly male and occasionally female) was spotted flying or swimming in different areas but usually in the central grassland pools and occasionally in the northern lakes.
A short-eared owl was seen a few times (sometimes 3 birds) over the river and the Dosthill bunds. Usually the best views were from the Dosthill fields in the afternoons and occasionally from the Meadow trail.
On one very windy day, with strong gusts from the west, a peregrine flew out from the central grasslands lakes aiming for the skies. It struggled with the wind and gave up, flying low to avoid the gales. Later it was seen flying high as blue skies came with the sun shining. It was too windy for the heron or little egret to fly, though. They were crouching low along the muddy edges of the pools.
There were mixed flocks of redpoll and siskin. We saw resident waterfowl in pairs.
The New Year's Day Bird Count team (great thanks for their dedication and enthusiasm), recorded 76 birds compared with 69 in 2008.
Our tough-booted, energetic winter WeBS surveyors counted (included RSPB Dosthill) : black-headed gull (3), canada goose (86), coot (384), cormorant (6), gadwall (25), goldeneye (14), great crested grebe (10), little egret (6), little grebe (5), mallard (215), moorhen (44), mute swan (17), oystercatcher (1), pochard (1), shelduck (9), shoveler (13), snipe (4), teal (278), tufted duck (153), wigeon (211).
Wetland trail also had black-headed gull, buzzard, cetti's warbler (calling from a ditch), chiffchaff, collared dove, common gull, goldeneye, goosander, green sandpiper, grey wagtail, herring gull, jack snipe, jackdaw, kestrel, kingfisher (often seen along the river), lapwing (2 flocks of over 500 seen mingling in the air), meadow pipit, merlin, mistle thrush, oystercatcher (seen on Dosthill on the 11th, usually seen in February, so our earliest record), peregrine, pintail, raven, redshank (along the river), short-eared owl, smew (male, occasionally seen), snipe, stonechat (pair regularly seen), water rail (reports of birds calling, flying and treading water across the river), wren, yellowhammer.
There were flocks of bullfinch (by the Bailey bridge and by the FM bridge, probably the same group), fieldfare, goldfinch, lapwing, little egret, linnet, long-tailed tit, redpoll (lesser), redwing, rook, siskin, starling. Lots of our winter ducks and geese were flying about.
Meadow trail had barn owl (early mornings), bittern (seen flying over), bullfinch, fieldfare, great spotted woodpecker, green woodpecker, jay, mistle thrush, redpoll (lesser), redwing, short-eared owl, siskin, skylark, song thrush, willow tit, woodcock (flying over).
Woodland trail had brambling, bullfinch (in the tented wood), buzzard, cetti’s warbler, goldcrest, great spotted woodpecker (heard drumming and sometimes a pair), green woodpecker (heard yaffling), grey heron (looking for nests), little egret (flying over the play meadow or the woods), kingfisher (along the Langley brook and opposite around the silt pool), lesser spotted woodpecker (occasionally a pair, seen by the stream viewpoint and by FM bridge), linnet, long-tailed tit (over 30 seen once), mistle thrush, nuthatch, raven, redpoll (a few mealy but usually lesser, flocks of over 25 were seen from the bridleway brook safety fence), robin, song thrush (in full song on a warm spring-like day), sparrowhawk (over the play meadow and woods), starling, treecreeper, water rail (play meadow pools, heronry reedbed and bridleway reedbed), willow tit (seen along the canal), wren (regularly heard)
BUTTERFLIES: A fluttering peacock was seen along the bridleway on the 6th, a warm day, up-to 10C. A red admiral was seen near the car-park on the 10th, another warm day, up-to 11C.
WILD FLOWERS: Still a few in flower: from last year – broom, daisy, gorse, nipplewort, ox-eye daisy, ragwort, toadflax, white dead-nettle. New for this year - colt's-foot (an early record, usually recorded in February), ground-ivy.
MAMMALS: There were signs of moles activity from new earth piles. Squirrels seemed more active than usual. A roe deer was seen along the bridleway, early one morning. Brown hares were seen in the grassland area. A weasel was seen around Fishers Mill lake. A fox was seen in the grassland area. A mink was seen strolling along the bridleway with a fish (perhaps a roach) in its mouth.
Ladybirds were seen on a warm day with temperatures up to 13C.
In summary, January gave us warm, wet, blue sky or cold-frosty days. Muddy or crunchy walking. What a mixture. January, which is usually the coldest month of the year, has had temperatures up to 13C (6C above the usual average) in parts of the country.
With a great thank you to everyone for your nature sightings – keep them coming in. You can use the car-park sightings board, phone, text or email. Contact details are on the maps – a copy of which can be downloaded from the RSPB Middleton Lakes internet page.
Compiled by Nigel Palmer