Most of the sightings this month are from members’ gardens. This is due to the lockdown, the very wet and muddy conditions of footpaths etc. and the snow, and we have all been spending much more time indoors.
However, in late January Jill Taylor had a walk down Green Lane, Burnham, and says – ‘I saw a flower at the side of the road yesterday and a memory at the back of my head said “Butterbur”, but when I got home and looked it up, the description was wrong. I went out again today to take a closer look and I am now sure it is “Winter Heliotrope”, a flower I have not come across before. It is said to be well established on waysides and hedgebanks. It flowers from November to March and it smells of vanilla. Are any of you familiar with it?’ Sue Jones answers: ‘No – I’m not familiar with Winter Heliotrope. I’ve just looked it up in the wildflower book. It’s like a Butterbur but less tightly packed with flowers. Well spotted! Good to see flowers appearing isn’t it.’ Jill has further confirmed that Diane Caulkett has also spotted lots more Winter Heliotrope just north of Pannels Bridge on the way to The Limes in Southminster Road and says ‘We were surprised that we have walked past it so often but never noticed it.’
Sue Longson whilst waiting in Broomfield hospital car park in late January writes: ‘I decided to take a walk & found a long narrow stretch of woodland which I had been unaware of before. Within fifteen minutes of walking I was able to watch nine grey squirrels foraging & two Robins plus Magpies & Pigeons. There were biggish trees, a stream & lake. Such a peaceful place for patients, staff & visitors to use.
Apparently the wood is called ‘Long Shapely Belt’ which is 1 ha and approximately 80 years old. Apparently a 2 ha ancient wood called Puddings Wood is also within the hospital grounds, both of which are managed by volunteers. The walk was short, but cleaning my boots with only wet wipes took forever.
At home the Redwings only come in dribs & drabs, but unfortunately a Sparrow Hawk swoops around too often.’
Jill Bevan writes: – ‘Have not seen anything unusual in garden, until yesterday (5th Feb.). A tiny bird, the size and shape of a bluetit, but definitely not a blue tit. We consulted the RSPB book and decided it must be a chiff-chaff. I wonder if anyone else has seen one. Sue Bridgman answers: ‘We think we saw one in our garden last week but we are pretty certain we saw one on a fence when we were out walking during the week. It was dipping which they apparently sometimes do.’
On 10 February Jill Taylor says: ‘I saw a pied wagtail in my garden, which is unusual, and yesterday I counted 28 fieldfares on my hawthorn tree finishing off the few berries that the blackbirds had left. This morning tell-tale footprints in the snow revealed that a heron has visited my pond!’
Anne Hollis writes on 10 February: ‘I have put food out in the snow for the birds in the last 4 days. I have seen Pied Wagtails, Blackbirds, Sparrows and a Bluetit. The Starlings have been scarce recently’, and Sue Longson says ‘I have had some Fieldfares joining the Blackbirds and Redwings on the Hawthorn trees in my garden – not so many berries left now.’
Report from Southminster – Sue and Tony Bridgman: Unfortunately, the fields are still too wet to walk comfortably so most of our birdwatching was done in our garden. However, a couple of weeks ago we did take a walk down Sheepcotes towards Green Lane where we had seen fieldfares a few years back. Amazingly, we were lucky again as we spotted a large flock of birds across the fields which we managed to identify as a mixture of both fieldfare and redwings, probably about 300 in number. Unfortunately, they were too far away to take any decent photos. However, we did get some close views of a Kestrel perched on a haystack scanning for its next meal!
We have enjoyed our garden watching more since joining the BTO Garden Watch – thanks to Jill Taylor for that recommendation. We often stop for a minute or two to see what’s going on outside our kitchen window and as a result have seen some unusual birds. Ones that we have added to our list over the last couple of weeks are Rooks and Jackdaws (both on the fat ball feeder!), a male and female blackcap and a chiffchaff. We have been visited several times by long-tailed tits and also a very tame wren. We have tallied a list of 17 different species over the last few weeks.
We had a further delight on Thursday, 11th when we were taking our daily constitutional along the bypass. We heard some scuffling in the bushes and really close to us were 2 Redwing busying themselves in the undergrowth. They were so close we could see their white eye stripe and the red patch along their wings.
It’s been amazing what we see in the vicinity of our own home – Essex Wildlife Trust eat your heart out!
I see that no-one above has mentioned Goldfinches. I see them in my garden every day and on one occasion I counted more than 15 in the tree at the bottom of my garden. I haven’t seen anything out of the ordinary, but I also regularly have a pair of Blackbirds, Robins, Blue and Great Tits, Collared Doves but not so many Starlings or Sparrows recently.
Thanks to all who have contributed.