Winter continued with cold mornings and blue skies with some ice. The mud turned crunchy and rigid and so walking was more fun, until the snow came and melted. Oh the glorious squelching underfoot. Visitors were saying that progress improved with "small steps". The mood of the weather reflected the state of the ground – muddy (mild), crunchy (frosty), icy and hard (freezing). Temperatures of 11C did dry out the paths for a while and the going was firm. Strong cold winds and rain came followed by warm weekends with temperatures up to 12C which then went higher with very warm days with temps up to 20C when butterflies, ladybirds were seen and a day-flying Daubenton's bat (white underbelly) was observed flying over the silt pool.
Strange winter sounds heard – a goose, perhaps – it was the craaaacking from the melting of the ice.
On some days we watched a bullfinch in the copse opposite the car-park or in the bushes by the Bodymoor Heath entrance.
Most mornings, we heard a song thrush and a green woodpecker calling from the heronry woods.
At the heronry - the birds were not staying overnight, in the beginning, but activity increased as the weather warmed up. Then declined as strong winds and cold nights came.
As we watched the herons coming and going on a sunny but cold day, we realised why we have a heronry here. The trees are tall and there is food in the heronry wood pools and nearby wetlands. But most important of all the heronry faces south. There is sun in the morning (east), at midday (south) and in the evening (west). The nests facing the play meadow get maximum warmth for the breeding of young herons. There's all right ingredients for a heron's young crèche – safety, food and warmth.
Heronry activity continued. There were five herons in the trees in the cold first week. On another day, there were eight flying about – too cold to land. On a warm day a maximum of eighteen were counted. Later on the 16th, after a warm night and a 7C start to the day, herons were observed bringing in twigs in their beaks – nest building was on its way. Then the winds and cold nights stopped the numbers building up again. By the warm third week, with warmer nights and mornings, there was more nest building seen, about 20 nests occupied with many sentinels on guard. By the end of the month we could see an adult (outside the nest, probably the male) feeding an adult (inside the nest, probably the female). Signs of pair bonding, with spring just a few days away.
One cold, frosty morning at 9am we saw eight little egret moving out from the lower canopy of the heronry (downstairs), after an overnight roost, when there were no herons staying above (upstairs). There were not seen later, so they must have moved along the Tame valley. On other day five were seen trying to nest , but were disturbed by the herons.
Some lucky visitors saw a pair of great spotted woodpeckers, with a lesser spotted woodpecker on the same tree. Not for long – lesser spottie was soon 'politely asked to leave'. 'Would you be so kind, etc.' There was some screeching involved.
On another day, the yaffle of a green woodpecker was heard, and the the lucky few also saw both a lesser and greater spotted woodpecker on one tree, in the woods.
It was nature’s Olympics at the feeding station during the month. A great spotted woodpecker arrived for some food - peanut feeder or the suet slab holder. The peanuts cage was busy so it was the suet. Most birds cling onto the suet cage and eat. But this great spottie was different. It climbed the support branch, gripped onto the wood, and then turned and twisted its body to point its beak to the slab and peck away. But it also kept its eye on the peanuts because as soon as the peanuts became free it untangled itself and flew to the nut cage. It looked so easy for our acrobatic great spottie – it was the one and only ‘climb, twist, feed and fly event’ .
Later in the month, along the bridleway, about 10am, we saw a lesser spotted woodpecker, not "knock, knock, knocking" but "tap, tap, tapping" on a young willow tree, trying to disturb some insects for breakfast.
We saw a goldcrest eating last year's catkins, just off the woodland path, oblivious to passing walkers.
On the snowy morning, there were eight pheasants in Villa wood, in the car-park, by the feeders and along the bridleway.
On icy pool days, a female smew was seen on the river (north end sometimes then from the cow meadow later), together with goosander.
We looked for grey wagtail on the gravel stretches along the brook (from the viewpoints) and along the river.
There were mixed flocks of chaffinch, redpoll (lesser), siskin, goldfinch by the feeders and along the bridleway.
In the first week, our friendly, fearless robin, by the outer woodland bridge, was sharing the food left by visitors with his mate. There were also blue and great tits mingling around, as well. By the month, robin was popping up at any of the wooden railed areas around the woodlands.
A group of bird-spotters were looking at all the flocks of redpoll for the 'goldpoll' variation – as a bird had been seen in a garden in Warwickshire. The best method to spot was to photograph all the flocks and then sieve through images in case a special 'gold-headed' variety was there. None were reported this month.
On one day, we saw a crow pair rubbing beaks and faces – time for each other, as the weather warmed up.
Our hardy, keen-eyed WeBS surveyors counted (included RSPB Dosthill) : black-headed gull (19), Canada goose (72), coot (228), cormorant (6), gadwall (2), great crested grebe (10), little egret (1), little grebe (6), mallard (137), moorhen (15), mute swan (24), shelduck (9), shoveler (12), teal (52), tufted duck (117), wigeon (155) and a bittern was recorded at Dosthill.
Wetland trail also had barn owl, black-headed gulls (large flocks), buzzard, common gull, cormorant, dunlin (group seen at the north-end and one was seen from the willow screen), fieldfare, golden plover, goldeneye, goosander (groups of up to 20 seen along the river), great crested grebe, great black-backed gull, green sandpiper (along the river and the northern lakes), green woodpecker, grey wagtail (on the gravel along the brook and the river), greylag goose, jack snipe, kestrel, kingfisher (along the river), oystercatcher, peregrine, pied wagtail, pintail, pochard, raven, redshank, ringed plover, skylark, siskin, smew, snipe, stonechat (pair), wren, yellowhammer.
Meadow trail had bullfinch, great spotted woodpecker, green woodpecker, jay, short-eared owl, skylark, snipe, and willow tit.
Woodland trail had bullfinch (along the canal, by Villa wood, in the hedgerows to the farm, by the Bodymoor Heath entrance and in the hedgerow before FM bridge), blue tit, Cetti’s warbler, chiffchaff (overwintering), coal tit, dunnock, goldcrest, goldfinch, great spotted woodpecker, great tit, grey wagtail (by the bridge over the brook), green woodpecker, jay, kestrel, kingfisher (along the brook, by FM bridge), lesser spotted woodpecker (along the bridleway, early mornings, 10-12am), linnet, little egret, long-tailed tit (family groups seen), marsh tit (seen and heard along the bridleway with its ‘dee-dar-dee-dee-dee ‘ call), nuthatch, pheasant, raven, redpoll (lesser), redwing, reed bunting, robin (pairs seen along the bridleway and by the outer wooden bridge), siskin, song thrush (singing), treecreeper, water rail (seen in the watery ditch opposite the woodland trail entrance), reed bunting, wren
BUTTERFLIES: 4 brimstones, a red admiral and a peacock, were along the bridleway, exploring the ivy, on the summery day (23rd), when the temperatures reached up to 20C.
WILD FLOWERS, SHRUBS, TREES: Gorse was in flower, as well as dandelion, colt’s-foot. Dog’s-mercury was in bud. Willow buds were in furry mode and new green catkins were everywhere. Bluebells were pushing through the soil.
MAMMALS: Two foxes and a hare were in the grassland and meadow trail area. Later 2 hares were boxing in the meadow trail area and roe deer were walking along the canal towpath, early one morning. Stoats were exploring beyond the play meadow behind the farm. A weasel was food searching by the brook and canal bridge. A muntjac deer wandered along the bridleway, early one morning. There was a possible water vole sighting in the brook by the broken bridge, in Fishers Mill meadow. A day-flying Daubenton's bat (pale underneath) was flying over the bridleway silt pool, at midday, chasing winter gnats, on that very warm day.
Frog spawn was appeared in the nearest play meadow pool (by the car-park) on the 15th with temperatures up to 11C.
In summary, February was catching up January to be as the coldest month in the UK year but then the late spring/summer weather came and the month ended mild after temperatures up to 20C. So a mixed bag of weather with plenty signs of a early spring.
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
The weather forecast promised a day indoors watching rugby and football on the TV - heavy rain, possible snow, cold wind! Yep, definitely a day to keep warm indoors.
But a phone call from a mother organising her son's birthday party changed my plans. We had already spoken about using our den building area as a way of getting a group of 9 year olds to burn up excess energy and we would also throw in the use of our large tent. I was not expecting the party to go aheaad but the birthday boy was adamant he was up for it!
So off I went to the reserve in 4 layers of clothing to protect me from the elements. The birthday party was already in full swing and amidst the driving rain and cold wind I could hear the sound of excited screaming coming from the den building wood - well someone was enjoying themselves!
After setting up my work bench under the tent I helped the party invitees make their own next box from the kits I had brought along. What great fun this was despite cold fingers and runny noses. Everyone did a great job on the boxes, fuelled by hot dogs cooked on portable grills. Typical British weather was not going to dampen their enjoyment.
Nest boxes built, they all set off on a treasure hunt around the play meadow, clambering on the tree, running up and down the mysterious mound and generally make the most of the open space.
My job done, I set off to check on our cows who live in our southern meadow. Checking is normally part of the Volunteer Wardens duties but I thought I would have a walk to see our Old English Longhorns even though the weather remained cold and wet.
Reaching the meadow gate I put a few cattle nuts in a tin and shook it to see what reaction I would have from the cows. They were not in sight at first but a few shakes and rattles later they appeared in sight almost jogging towards me. Within a few minutes I had them eating out of my hand and I was genuinely thrilled at this experience - for the first time in my life I was hand feeding these huge beasts - just brilliant.
Who needs good weather?