Saturday 14 January 2017

Snow Joke!

One of my customers got home yesterday from visiting relatives in Canada, where 'winter' is more than just the name of a season. As she described life in a land of -30°C daytime temperatures and real snow I shuddered in horror. As far as I was concerned, yesterday was plenty cold enough. Around 4 or 5°C at best, with a hefty wind chill factor, I was togged up for work in fleece and body warmer, proper red hat and neoprene gloves. Meanwhile, in the midst of my suffering, one or two birders I know (who work indoors I should add) are lusting for freezing weather and snow. Why? Because it's great for birding. Unfortunately, this I cannot deny.

Back in 2010 we had a freeze at both ends of the year. The snow began on Jan 6, and on that day I walked from my home in Seaton, down to Black Hole Marsh, out onto the tramway and up the Axe valley to Colyford. There were just a couple of inches of snow, but it was enough to transform the landscape...

Black Hole Marsh that morning. That dark shape out there is an otter. It was diving through holes in the ice and catching small mullet.

The accompanying freeze saw an absolutely massive hard-weather displacement of birds, the biggest I've ever witnessed. Thousands and thousands of Fieldfares, Redwings, Meadow Pipits, Skylarks, Lapwings etc passed through our patch in just a few days. Axe biggies included a Smew and Bittern, the latter a patch tick for everyone I think. I recall watching a flock of c300 Lapwings fly purposefully southwards out over the sea; next stop: France. It was a few days of truly spectacular winter birding.

And then, in December, it froze again. At the start of the month a flock of up to 18 Woodlarks appeared in a field down in the valley, presumably driven off their normal wintering site on higher ground.

This bird - and its mates - avoided clumsy boots by scuttling out of the way.

On Dec 18 there was some more proper snow, tempting me once again to walk the forbidden path out to the tramway and up to Colyford...

View S across Black Hole Marsh from the naughty path.

Skylarks were on the move big-time. I counted some 11,250 passing through, many of them touching down for a short time in the Woodlark field, and fluked a Lapland Bunting among them too. Another six inches of snow on 20th pushed our Lapwing tally to 3,000...

Yep. No doubt about it, a good freeze-up is brilliant for birding.

But I doubt the birds themselves are too keen. Also, ice and snow are rubbish for cycling and fishing. And outdoor jobs. It's funny how your perspective changes according to circumstances. When I am once again fully up to date with work (and a birder!) then I shall welcome a big freeze with open arms. Meanwhile the prospect of such is snow joke!


  1. All credit to those who go out birding in those conditions Gav. I tend to peer out the window, think 'yuk!' and stay put.
    I'll settle for the birds in the garden. This morning I had a new bird for the garden - Moorhen - on the back lawn.

    1. London birding in a freeze-up used to be superb, Ric. Sea-duck, divers, grebes and all sorts on the reservoirs and other big water bodies. I found my one and only London Lap Bunt in the snow at Queen Mother Res.

      By the way, as I know you've lived in your house for about sixty years I know that Moorhen must be a superb garden bird!