FIVE TO FIND in Fe­bru­ary

Bird Watching (UK) - - What To See And How To See It -

THE SHORT DAYS of Jan­uary are stretch­ing slightly through the trun­cated month of Fe­bru­ary, giv­ing more birding time. But this is a time of cold snaps and deep chills. Wrap up warm and head out to see some great win­ter birds. Here are five to warm the cold­est bird­watcher.


The Treecreeper is a clas­sic ex­am­ple of a bird which is heard much more of­ten than it is seen. Heard, that is, if you have ears to hear it. This tru­ism arises for two rea­sons: firstly, the call is very high-pitched and many of us strug­gle to hear such notes. Se­condly, many bird­watch­ers are un­fa­mil­iar with the high, thin calls and es­pe­cially the war­bled ditty of a song, which has been de­scribed as a lit­tle like a thin, short­ened ver­sion of a Wil­low War­bler song. If you can tune into Treecreep­ers, you will note that they are com­mon birds, if a lit­tle tricky to see some­times. But once seen, there is noth­ing quite like a Treecreeper (at least among reg­u­lar Bri­tish birds). They re­ally do creep up tree trunks and branches, be­fore fly­ing to the base of the next tree in their cir­cuit.


De­spite mas­sive per­se­cu­tion, the Hen Harrier re­mains our com­mon­est harrier. It is not com­mon, though, and is all but ex­tinct as an English breeder. In win­ter, the Scot­tish birds spread to the low­lands and are bol­stered by con­ti­nen­tal birds, which can be found in east­ern and south­ern Eng­land. Males are pale grey with white rumps and black wing tips. Fe­males and ju­ve­niles are brown but also have a white rump and a banded tail which gives them the name ‘ring­tail’. They pa­trol on wings held in a V, us­ing their owl-like fa­cial disc to help lo­cate prey in rough grass. They are of­ten eas­i­est to see in win­ter when re­turn­ing to a known roost site.


A few years ago, af­ter a cou­ple of very cold win­ters, Stonechats ap­peared to be in a cer­tain amount of trou­ble. But af­ter a col­lec­tion of suc­ces­sive mild win­ters, they seem to have bounced back. Stonechats are perky, pretty lit­tle birds. They have an en­dear­ing habit of perch­ing high up on a dried weedy plant or a fen­ce­post. And if you see one, you will of­ten find its part­ner nearby.


The owl equiv­a­lent of the Hen Harrier, the Short-eared Owl, is many a bird­watch­ers’ favourite. They are of­ten seen hunting while the sun is still up, and have a lovely buoy­ant, bouncy flight style, aided by their very long wings (for an owl). The UK’S win­ter­ing pop­u­la­tion of Short-eared Owl, is ex­tremely vari­able, with num­bers be­ing strongly con­trolled by the pop­u­la­tion of voles, their main prey. There can be just a few thou­sand in­di­vid­u­als, but in a good owl year, as many as 50,000 may be in the coun­try.


Many of our ducks are very hand­some birds, and none more so than the drake Gold­en­eye, re­splen­dent in black and white with a dark green iri­des­cent head and, of course, a golden eye. Mid-win­ter sees these lit­tle beau­ties at their finest (in plumage terms), but also at their friski­est, car­ry­ing out their crazy, head-thrown-back dis­play, ac­com­pa­nied by a nasal, squeak­ing, rasp­berry sound.

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