We have had a few Bramblings in the garden since the end of November. Of all the mixed seed on offer this male shows his preference for black sunflower seeds. Bramblings are winter visitors to Britain save a few birds which remain to breed in Northern Scotland. As the breeding season approaches the grey feather tips on the male Brambling’s head and back will wear away to reveal jet black. The orange bill will also turn black making the Brambling one of Scandinavia’s most striking breeding birds.
I sketched wildfowl in a bitterly cold easterly wind today. Castle Howard Lake offers good views of a variety of wildfowl. There were very large numbers of Wigeon, Teal, Tufted Duck and Mallard but I concentrated on sketching drake Goldeneye and Goosander. For comparison a recent post shows sketches of female Goosanders found on Newburgh Priory Lake. Today I could only find drakes. After a couple of hours my fingers were struggling to control pencil and brush but winter wildfowl make such a fine subject on a cold grey day.
A trip to Cowpen Bewley Woodland Park north of Middlesborough by the scenic route. I drove through some dramatic heather moorland scenery frequently peered at byRed Grouse. The drive took me from Hawnby across Hawnby moor descending into the beautiful oak lined Blow Gill then rising again to cross further moors with the imposing Hambleton Hills to the left. Black Hambleton at 400m is very impressive. Finally the road leaves the high ground at the edge of Slape Stones Beck and descends to Osmotherley .
In Middlesborough I was keen to photograph and sketch a very dapper drake Ring- necked Duck. I found him immediately in the company of other diving ducks- Tufted Ducks, Pochard and a single female Goldeneye. I had great views at times of this North American species. The origin of rare wildfowl in this country is always the subject of debate as specimens occasionally escape form collections, but this Ring- necked Duck has is not ringed and certainly shows all the signs of being a wild bird of North American origin. I sketched in mild conditions as the temperature was 10.5 celsius. The Ring- necked Duck has a very distinctive angular and high head shape and striking bill pattern of white, grey and black. I decided that the eye colour was a slightly deeper yellow than the Tufted ducks it associated with. Close views reveal a beautiful purplish sheen around the drakes neck. With bold markings and interesting head shape the Ring- necked Duck was a delight to draw and paint.
Cowpen Bewley is a new forest managed by Stockton Borough Council where 300000 trees have been planted since 1990. It is a sited on old brickworks, landfill and agricultural land.
This watercolour shows a Woodcock, as seen on Christmas Day. It will be shown at the Wykeham Gallery, Stockbridge, Hampshire on February 26th.
Sadly our local Barn Owl is still missing and has been since the start of the snow which first covered the ground here on 23rd November last year. There have been many reports of Barn Owls starved to death in North Yorkshire and across the country. Time will tell how much this beautiful bird has suffered during last year’s extensive snow cover.
I was very pleased to see a Song Thrush in the garden this afternoon. I haven’t seen one here for weeks. This could be a male returning to establish a territory ahead of the breeding season. I expect to hear one singing any day now.
Two very large sheets of ice remain on the lake but much of the surface is now clear. A good count of redhead Goosanders today with nine present. They were fishing actively for a time and very successfully. They often came up with small fish and small pieces of weed caught on their serrated mandibles, suggesting they were diving quite deep for the catch. It was interesting to watch them feed. They were very sociable in their underwater pursuits. They spent several seconds looking underwater before diving as one sketch shows.
With the arrival of mild weather Robins are singing with great gusto in the mornings, particularly just before dawn. At dawn this morning the temperature was 8.5 celsius and the misty air carried the sound of at least five Robins singing near the house. Our local birds are starting to pair up now. There was some interesting Robin behaviour in the recent cold weather; some garden feeding areas, including ours, had several Robins feeding together. This is very unusual Robin behaviour as they normally remain highly territorial. One survival strategy is to ignore these territory boundaries and share an abundant food source.
A great day’s birding with Chris Knight at the RSPB’s Fairburn Ings reserve. We had great views of some of Britains most beautiful birds. As we arrived six Waxwings flew in and gave us wonderful views as they descended to feed on berries next to Fairburn Ings visitor centre. A male Kingfisher was seen very well, appropriately at the Kingfisher screen and below it a female Smew came close to dive for fish. Much of the extensive areas of open water were frozen solid leaving a few pools where large numbers of wildfowl congregated. We had astonishing close views of a Water Rail on the edges of one such pool. Fairburn Ings is a haven for some decling species particularly Tree Sparrows and Willow Tits, both of which we are fortunate to have on our own garden feeders. At the end of the afternoon we were rewarded with great views of a Long Eared Owl roosting in the afternoon sunshine in a hawthorn tree. Its piercing orange eyes occasionally watched us and its ear tufts remained erect throughout. A very beautiful owl seen close and in good light- what a great start to this year’s bird list.
I found this beautiful moth by the outside light last night. It is one of very few species which are able to fly during the coldest months of the year and I have read reports of Pale Brindled Beauties surviving being completely encased in ice. The other species likely to be seen at this time of year is the Winter Moth. In both species the female is wingless.
We felt an earthquake just after 9pm, an unmistakable brief swaying from side to side accompanied by an audible thud. The British Geological Survey confirmed this soon afterwards. The tremor, magnitude 3.7 was apparently 11km below the surface of the earth just west of Ripon, North Yorkshire.
Also this evening I saw a few meteorites some of which were very bright with trails. All of them moved roughly north to south. They are meteorites associated with the Quadrantid meteor shower which happens annually around this time.