Parish Nature Notes for January 2013 - John Wright


I am continuing with my monthly nature notes for the parish this year and because no two years are ever the same, perhaps there will be a little less rain in 2013! The year started mild and sunny with robins, dunnocks and coal tits singing in our gardens. Even more encouraging, on the 4th January, I heard three song thrushes and two mistle thrushes singing as I took my usual route through Wareham Forest and Morden Bog. Song thrushes normally start singing in January and have a loud song consisting of short sequences of notes, typically repeated two to four times, which makes them easy to identify. The larger mistle thrush has a powerful sombre song, somewhat like a blackbird, and therefore lacks the repetitions of the song thrush.

Song Thrush

Song Thrush

Photograph: Ken Dolbear

The next day I witnessed a male sparrowhawk twist and turn as it pursued a small bird over some ivy at the bottom of our garden. With small birds at higher densities in urban gardens than in the wider countryside, a regular circuit through a sequence of gardens is a logical strategy for such highly manoeuverable birds of prey.

As the mild weather continued I started noticing several patches of sweet violets in flower on local roadside verges. Although this is a native species, the fact that it flowers so early in the year and is fragrant means that it is a favourite garden plant but then escapes cultivation. In addition to the purple form shown in the photo, there are also white and pink forms.

Sweet Violet

Sweet Violet

Photograph: Ken Dolbear

The 11th January heralded colder weather, but with sunny conditions and no wind, my weekly walk through Wareham Forest and Morden Bog provded sightings of five dartford warblers, including two birds in full song. At one point a pair of dartford warblers joined a stonechat on the top of a single gorse bush. Further evidence of birds pairing up came as I spotted a pair of tree creepers keeping close company east of Sherford Bridge and then a second pair were seen working their way up an oak tree just west of Sherford Bridge. As I finished my walk, a great tit started singing that characteristic 'tea-cher, tea-cher' song, with the emphasis on the first syllable. Like the song thrush, this reminds me that day length is increasing and that spring can't be that far away.

Great Tit

Great Tit

Photograph: Ken Dolbear

However, mid-January is still the middle of winter and our garden feeders attracted two pairs of bullfinches on a regular basis and parties of around 10 long-tailed tits on numerous occasions. While some favoured peanuts or fat, others took small seeds and breadcrumbs. More than half of their length is tail and because their bodies are so small they huddle together at night as a single feathered ball with their tails protruding in order to survive particularly cold nights.

Long-tailed Tits

Long-tailed Tits

Photograph: John Wright

We had a real taste of winter a few days later when on the 19th the ground and vegetation was cloaked in snow as I took my regular walk. In reality, conditions were more severe to the north and hence there was some evidence that birds were on the move. As expected, there were more winter thrushes about, with redwing and fieldfare feeding on the ground near the Sherford River and skylarks calling as they passed overhead. At Morden Park Lake the numbers of gadwall and mallard had increased to over 50 of each species and four lapwing flew over Morden Bog. Although lapwing can sometimes be seen in numbers at Holton Lee in winter, they are rarely added to my Wareham Forest and Morden Bog list of species.

Lapwing

Lapwing

Photographer: Ken Dolbear

Although I haven't seen them myself this winter, three waxwings were reported in Sandford on the Dorset Bird Club website on Sunday 20th January. An invasion of waxwings from Scandanavia occurred along the east coast in autumn 2012 and in the last month or two they have been reported at various locations across Dorset. These invasions usually occur when there is a failure of the rowan berry crop in Scandanavia and flocks of waxwings then rely on hawthorn and the various exotic berry-bearing shrubs found in towns and gardens. It would appear that they extract very little energy from each berry because each bird consumes hundreds of berries each day and therefore groups of birds will strip shrubs of their berries before being forced to move on to find new sources of food.

Waxwing

Waxwing

Photograph: Ken Dolbear

The next day, with snow still on the ground, we had a fieldfare in the garden and a walk around Sandford produced several great tits singing, flocks of redwing in the trees near the Community Hall and in woodland on Sandford heath, but no sign of waxwings in gardens! However, three days later, with the snow all but gone, I heard a chaffinch  manage the first half of its song and greenfinches were becoming more vocal with their wheezing 'che-wee' call.

Greenfinch

Greenfinch

Photograph: Ken Dolbear

My final walk round Wareham Forest and Morden bog for the month on the 26th was a sunny and mild day and, having parked at Lawson Clump, I was soon aware that several chaffinches were in full song. Their song starts slowly, speeds up and ends with a flouish. It has often been compared with the action of a bowler in a cricket match as he gains speed and then delivers the ball! In Morden Bog I was pleased to hear my first woodlark of the year calling but not yet singing and to see a few snowdrops at Decoy Cottage. Now flowering in many gardens around Sandford, the snowdrop is sometimes called the snow-piercer because the hardened leaf-tips are designed to break through frozen ground.

Snowdrops

Snowdrops

Photograph: Ken Dolbear

And finally, lesser celendine one of the first flowers to come into bloom in woodland is now flowering well under the protection of a small group of oak trees and the nearby houses on Forest Edge.

Lesser Celendine

Lesser Celendine

Photograph: John Wright