I have not been on any birding trips for a few weeks now, for various reasons, and most of the time I have stayed close to home.
The weekend before last, I popped down to Amwell for a couple of hours with the expectation of picking up a few year ticks. It was one of those nice late winter days with a hint of spring in the air, bright and mild. A few of the plums were in flower, catkins were out on the hazels and leaves were starting to emerge. Bird wise it was a bit of a nothing day really. The usual pair of Oystercatchers were back on the island, and there were still plenty of Wigeon Gadwall etc as the water levels were still pretty high. The wintering red head Smews had decided to hide for the day and no-one could find them, pity really as I was banking on getting them before they departed. Of course they were back again the next day. I couldn't find Marsh Tit, Nuthatch, Treecreeper or Bullfinch either. With a few hirundines in the country there was a chance of one appearing, but I was about a week early.
I have been around Aston End and along the nearby stretch of the Beane a couple of times, the most recent being on Sunday. In between my two visits, some of the roadside hedges have been cut but in a somewhat more sympathetic way than the usual hack and slash destruction. Unfortunately, with the rather dry winter, the river level is quite low. It is still flowing but I can see it drying up completely over the summer unless we have a lot of rain over the next few months. The recent storm Doris doesn't seem to have caused much in the way of damage, with only a couple of leaning trees in the conifer plantation.
Skylarks are singing in small numbers, and the fields have a few Meadow Pipits-but I haven't seen more than five yellowhammers and a single Linnet. Greenfinches seem to be increasing in recent years and five were singing around the village on Sunday (and I heard one while in the garden yesterday which is a bit of a bonus), but there has been no sign yet of Bullfinches-there should be at least three occupied territories.
Thrush numbers are declining as spring approaches. A couple of weeks back I had around 35 Fieldfare, 25 Redwing with several Song Thrushes in a flock by the river, but on Sunday there were around 30 rather distant birds-mainly Fieldfare flying around Lords Farm. Twenty Mallard were sitting in an adjacent field, no idea where they came from as its rare to see more than the odd bird around this stretch as there only a very small pond here and the river is not suitable for ducks these days.
I heard a Tawny Owl in the regular spot, but as usual Little Owls were absent. With only a couple of encounters over the last three years its pretty conclusive that the nest hole that has been so reliable over the last 30 years has been abandoned. There is a lot more disturbance in the area these days and I am hoping that they have found a quieter spot further up river, though I have yet to find it.
The only hint of spring on Sunday was a single singing Chiffchaff some Celandines in flower, and a few Blackthorn blossoms just starting to open.