Fieldfares have been more in evidence than usual this winter and, like almost everything at present except perhaps the weather, this may well be Brexit-related! The Brexit connection is that UK fruit growers had become largely dependent on an annual influx of east Europeans to pick fruit but, amid all the uncertainty about the UK’s future relationship with Europe, that flow of workers has been drying up. Consequently, some of the local apple orchards weren’t fully picked in the autumn, and a few seem not to have had any of their apples gathered, leaving a veritable feast for redwings and fieldfares to gorge on. There have certainly been large flocks of mostly fieldfares swirling over orchards in the Chartham Hatch area, and it seems likely that some of these birds have spilled over into Blean Woods; as most of my records were towards dusk, the birds may well have been preparing to roost in trees on the reserve.
One of the joys of being out in the countryside is never knowing what delight may assail your senses next. Last week the large heath was wreathed in early morning mist, coating the spines and yellow flowers of the abundant gorse with water droplets. As the mist cleared and the sun broke through, the entire area was sparkling magically as the droplets caught the sunlight. There was now enough warmth in the sun to cause some of the dampness to evaporate, but the air was still cool enough to cause the vapour to promptly condense, and the combination of twinkling gorse and spiralling wraiths was entrancing. Had Wordsworth been there, he would have torn up his manuscript about soppy daffodils and immediately penned an ode to “Blean Wood’s glistening gorse/Is by far the best, of course”! No? Maybe stick to the day job!
The fabulous, hugely unseasonal weather in late February was surely instrumental in providing me with my earliest ever singing chiffchaff record on 24th of the month. While the bulk of these small warblers migrate to the Mediterranean area in winter, a small number from eastern Europe have taken to passing the coldest months here, so I can’t be sure that this bird wasn’t an overwintering one, but they don’t usually start singing until early March, and it seems more than likely that the exceptional warmth prompted this individual to burst into song. We don’t yet know enough about the impact of unusual weather events on wildlife, but the consensus is that it is detrimental to many species, from fruit trees that bloom early, only to have their flowers frosted and the crop lost, through to swallows arriving earlier than usual, but then succumbing when a return to cold conditions deprives them of any insect food. I certainly enjoyed wearing a T-shirt in February and eating outdoors, but can’t help worrying that this aspect of climate change is bound to adversely affect our wildlife.
I have carried out my first two breeding bird surveys, but it is far too early to say what the populations are going to be like this spring. All the expected birds have been heard apart from marsh tit, which seems to be rapidly following its cousin, the willow tit, to extinction in this part of Kent.
Gorse in the mist………
…..some of it garlanded with cobwebs
We spend 90% of net income on conservation, public education and advocacy
The RSPB is a member of BirdLife International. Find out more about the partnership
© The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a registered charity: England and Wales no. 207076, Scotland no. SC037654