On 23rd a young male Peregrine was hanging over the Victorian terraces beyond the railway track, drifting and flinching when Herring Gulls came too close, then turning and suddenly dropping in a half-stoop and coming back up from the backs of the roofs. For a long while it repeated these moves, always watching and circling, then with wings half closed powering down with easy speed, once striking at a pigeon in level flight, then taking a spectacular bouncing dive up and down across several roads at chimney-top height or lower.
A pair of adult peregrines have also been over the town at times. Sparrowhawk too hunts in the town, once seen to stoop into a garden after small birds.
Jackdaws appear at first light in bustling, amicable mobs of thirty or more that hug the roofs, keeping below the skyline as they speed towards their daytime feeding lands. In the evening they pass westwards towards roost, yet on the day following an atrocious night of cold wind and rain their evening performance was strangely cancelled. I had prepared to count them as they passed in the evening, but none had appeared by nightfall. Had they decided to change their roost site after that poor weather?
Redwings continue in quiet gardens and street trees and small flocks continue to be a regular sight passing my town window. At Collington recently a Holly beside the station hosted twenty or more of these thrushes, and others were at garden Holly beside Collington Wood. However, the hedges at North’s Seat were quieter yesterday, and it looked as if the berry crop there has been depleted.
Up at the Barley fields Reed Buntings, Yellowhammers, Rooks, Snipe and Skylarks are maintaining good numbers. 60 Meadow Pipits also, and other wintering birds include Grey Wagtail, Mistle Thrush and Song Thrushes.
Yesterday occasional small flocks of Redwings were passing in a northeasterly direction over the house, seeming to come from Alexandra Park and heading towards Ore Valley. I wondered if they were birds returning northwards after the recent thaw. It would be a sensible strategy for them to remain as far north as possible through the winter, making the most efficient use of food resources and saving the southernmost supplies for any deepening of the winter later on. There are certainly quite a few ornamental Hollies in the town that are festooned with fruits.
With regard to the Ore Valley I should look to see if the old mature Hawthorns there are being visited by winter thrushes.
Today on the Barley fields and good numbers of birds, certainly an increase in Song Thrushes in the field edges. However, there were also several small flocks of Fieldfares which passed through westwards, the birds appearing quite tired. Fieldfare rarely comes into Hastings in winter unless there has been snow or they have sensed that snow is on the way.
Among the field birds Skylarks and Reed Buntings in very good numbers, fifty or so of each noted today. Snipe have increased with 33 in one of the fields.
A walk in Alexandra park today. At 11.30 and a white hoar frost and ice in shaded places and a cold northerly wind in a bright sky. A dozen Redwings could be seen flitting through the crowns of Oaks and other trees at the town end, again it became apparent that the centre of acivity was several tall Hollies along the upper verge. Walking further up did not produce any other concentrations, although a brilliantly sunlit Firecrest in a glade stole the show. I decided to go up through Old Roar, what is known as Silverhill Park with large gardens and what in the 1970s was farmland with some luxuriant hedges and wetland habitat as well as fields. The footpaths remain between the new housing developments, small ghyll features have been retained and fenced off with natural wooden posts and rails. As well as the garden trees and shrubs of the older large houses there are still mature oaks along footways and roadsides. Small areas of woodland also survive here and there. The network of quieter roads with the complement of footpaths means that an interesting walk can be devised.
At one of the pathside features, a wooded clay ponded gully fenced off beside bramble hedging and garden backs I heard a striking call that made me wait some while. It sounded like an ‘eastern’ Chiffchaff. But no sighting and after a few minutes I felt I had to press on. The path there is beside Barrow Rise at TQ803121.
Returning home a dozen Redwings flew over the house and 2 Buzzards flew NW together, presumably to roost.
Wishing all my readers and correspondents a Happy Festive Season.
A day of rain, then a day of sleet turning to snow. The following day gave a beautiful but frozen morning of ice and lying snow beneath a golden sun. A surprise was fallen trees blocking paths in two places, but then in the winter arable fields – winter grass growing tall on stubble and ice-covered furrows filled with small wild plants – a bunting or two seen going into the hawthorn and blackthorn and on closer inspection a cold weather roost of 100 Reed buntings and 45 Yellowhammers – the buntings flying out in droves from the thick thorns and frozen ground as I walked the field. Some Snipe up as well.
Along the Holly banks Redwings again, this time more widespread, filtering along the shaws and hedgetops after berries. On to North’s Seat and finding Redwings in numbers in the hedge, now joined by a small number of Fieldfares, uncharacteristically unobtrusive in the lower branches of Holly.
Today a cold northerly wind and finding Redwings casually about the town, fifteen flying over my central flat and a dozen together straggling past the Pilot Field. Others in gardens here and there all over St Helens and eighty or more Starlings.
A walk into the cemetery was rewarded with the sight of no less than seven Hawfinches. I had gone in to see if the Redwings were still in numbers there and saw a single Hawfinch flying towards Coghurst, but then at the Yews a party of three flew out and perched in a bare Birch. Then there were three couples all in view together, in bare branches and later a flock of five including two bright males which patrolled the area.
Some of the Hawthorn thickets are now denuded of their fruits, while others remain unharvested. Blackbirds are often inconspicuous in the hedgerows now, especially in the colder air. With frost and ice forming at sunrise they find it best to keep in cover close by the stores of winter fruits, avoiding heat loss and predators as much as possible. A female Blackbird swallowed several haws as I watched along a Covehurst lane, the bird saw me and startled, but before flying off took one more berry from the twig and flew off with it towards a sheltered corner.
Redwings have been percolating into the Hastings countryside and joining the Blackbirds. They are especially gathering in well-laden Hollies and in such places I counted over 20 at North’s Seat and today there were well over 50 at the Cemetery holly bushes. Again birds are intent on shelter and feeding and staying hidden. Several times I have seen and heard Redwings drop into trees from the sky, and perhaps flocks are gathering in these areas of food and shelter.
The Continental Song Thrushes have not really appeared in numbers – a party of three in a field corner hedge, but otherwise absent. Even so, Song Thrushes presumed to be of local stock were singing widely on winter territories in the glens and cliffside scrubs. Mistle Thrushes remain very scarce, but one in a town garden and several on the outskirts continue to be seen.
Up to 40 Skylarks, 12 Reed Buntings and 60 Meadow Pipits are in the fields. Small numbers of Snipe too, and up to four Stonechats in two areas, wondering whether to sit out the early winter or otherwise pass southwards and commit to an uncertain passage and spring return.