A familiar bird during the winter months is the long-tailed tit, it’s busy, noisy flocks often seen moving through hedge lines and scrub where they feed on invertebrates.These flocks are made up, not only of parents and children, but also close family relatives, as failed pairs often help out at the nests of close male relatives, increasing their chances of raising young. This ensures that least some of the ‘helpers’ genes are passed on to the next generation. These groups, parents young and helpers, go on make up the flocks that are seen outside of the breeding season.
There was nothing particularly notable on the wader front during January, though there were decent numbers around and some good counts of certain species. As usual the bulk was provided by golden plover and lapwing with maxima of 2000 and 1000 respectively, followed by 176 curlew, 80 dunlin, 69 grey plover, 63 ringed plover and 61 sanderling. Towards the end of the month numbers dropped off considerably, perhaps due the incoming cold weather which may have forced many birds to move towards warmer climes. Other sightings during the month included a couple of sightings of ruff, with 12 at Castle Water on the first, small numbers of black-tailed and bar-tailed godwit and regular snipe. Good numbers of waterfowl were still present for most of February, though as with the waders the advent of cold weather towards the end of the month coincided with a drop in numbers. Before the cold spell there were some good counts of ducks at Castle Water, including 134 shoveler on the 8th and 132 gadwall on the 1st, while at least 450 wigeon were present around the reserve on the 18th. Highlights included several sightings of great white egret at Castle Water, with seven on the 11th, the long staying red-breasted merganser throughout on the Beach Reserve or Harbour Farm, up to three goldeneye on Harbour Farm and a ‘redhead’ goosander over Castle Water on the 11th, while small flocks of Brent goose began to appear on the Beach Reserve and Harbour Farm. Raptors included several sightings of marsh harrier at Castle Water, with three going in to roost in the reedbeds opposite the viewpoint on the 18th, a merlin on Harbour Farm on the 7th and a peregrine on the Beach Reserve on the 1st.There were also a couple of sightings of barn owl during the month, with singletons seen at Castle Water on the 18th and on the Beach Reserve on the 24th.Passerines during February included small numbers of bullfinch and fieldfare at Castle Water, a kingfisher on the Beach Reserve on the 6th and up to 35 skylark on the new saltmarsh.
February saw the first bumblebee of the year, with a queen buff-tailed bumblebee on Harbour Farm on the 15th, while other invertebrate records during the month included a black clock (a common ground beetle) on the Beach Reserve on the 18th and one of the false widows Steatoda grossa at Lime Kiln Cottage on the 15th, the first record for the reserve. Plants in flower included red deadnettle, coltsfoot and common whitlow grass.