January has slipped into February and with a cold bite to most days it was a pleasant surprise last week to see the first snowdrops starting to carpet the local woods and providing nourishment for any early emerging insects.
As the season promises to turn to spring there are still winter specials to catch. An early WEBS count at Marlingford this week saw me wrapped up warm and fine tuning the art of counting big numbers of birds. The first flock to test my skills was one of just under 300 woodpigeon. Clearly such big numbers include additions from frozen Europe that have migrated across with other visitors that still plunder the hedgerows including redwings and fieldfares. Other flocks on the nearby lake did not require the same quick counts with double figures of teal tufted duck and wigeon hiding in the vegetation of the lake edges. A less usual set of visitors sat sleeping amongst them in the form of three shovelers.
Perhaps the most spectacular resident of the lake and popular village local was a cormorant but not the usual reptilian black but wearing the frosted white feathers that sometimes show on pre breeding birds in a stunning head dress. As I made my way to my next site to count I was first overflown low by two calling grey herons and then by an unexpected winter gem in the form of a merlin. This little falcon usually a bird of upland Britain occasionally crops up in rural areas in the winter and it put on a performance of typical wing flapping thought to be a practice to fool prey into thinking they are something less predatory.
For my final counts I headed to nearby Algarsthorpe where earlier two flocks each of two hundred lapwing had been seen. They had vanished but left behind a hundred and fifteen whistling wigeon feeding on the riverside grass. Last offering from me was another surprised visitor to the trail cam which is back out as I type so check back for others as we head into spring.