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January 2016

1st January 2016, Friday
-1.8 C to 8.2 C / 4.0 mm / 0.5 hours / E 5
A cold and crisp start to the new year with a frost and some winter sunshine to start the day, but this wouldn't last long with cloud increasing by mid-morning. Remaining cloudy but dry for the rest of the morning and the afternoon, though after dark the cloud would become thick enough for some spells of rain, these continuing on and off throughout the night. The rain would also be accompanied by some strong gusts of wind during the night as well.

Amazingly a few daffodils are beginning to flower in a garden near the river whilst one of my sisters came across some starting to bloom whilst walking with her family in Lower Wensleydale. However here at the homestead the majority of the spring bulbs are still only just starting to push through the ground, though in the shelter and warmth of the walled garden a few are somewhat more advanced, especially those against the south-facing wall.

2nd January 2016, Saturday
-1.5 C* to 9.4 C / 5.0 mm / 0.0 hours / E 3-4
A very dull and damp day with periods of drizzle in the afternoon, and whilst it would become somewhat drier for a time in the evening, further outbreaks of rain would return overnight, these being quite heavy at times.

The countryside in the Vale of Pickering, the traditional flood-plain between the Yorkshire Wolds & the North York Moors, is covered in large areas of standing water at the moment, the landscape in places resembling how much of this area must have looked prior to the agricultural drainage & improvements of modern times. Both the river Derwent and the river Rye near Malton were notably high as made our way to our destination on the other side of the Vale, though flooding has so far been contained in this part of Yorkshire, at least as regards towns and villages. Another consequence of the saturated ground has been a large number of blown down trees around Ryedale, the strong winds prior to the New Year simply tearing the trees out of the ground. Here's hoping for some drier weather before things get worse in this part of the county.

3rd January 2016, Sunday
5.9 C to 7.7 C / 13.0 mm / 0.0 hours / SE 4
Yet another dull and overcast day with heavy and persistent rain arriving shortly after midday, and continuing for the remainder of the afternoon and indeed well into the evening. However it would become somewhat drier overnight with even some clearer spells managing to develop, but these wouldn't last long with overcast skies and low cloud returning by the end of the night.

I had to move the bird feeding station this afternoon (in pouring rain!) as the squirrels have been knocking the feeders off lately, though what was most noticeable is just how soggy parts of the garden are becoming, the persistent rain this afternoon making it very boggy in places under foot. Being on chalk our garden is very well drained, indeed a lack of moisture in the soil tends to be our biggest problem, at least as regards the flower garden, but at the moment it is quite the reverse with the lawn as "squishy" as I can remember it being for quite some time. The rising water table has also meant that the tool shed is starting to see water leach through the walls, though so far only a bit of minor mopping has been needed to keep the water at bay.

4th January 2016, Monday
1.8 C to 7.7 C / 1.9 mm / 0.0 hours / SE 3-4
A dull but dry start to the day, though by mid-morning outbreaks of drizzle and rain would arrive from the south-east, these continuing on and off for most of the day. Remaining damp in the evening and overnight with further spells of drizzle &/or rain, though it was mostly light with only modest amounts of precipitation actually accumulating in the official Met. Office standard rain gauge.

North Cliffe Wood - We enjoyed a morning stroll around the wood with my eldest niece and nephew on what was a grim and damp sort of morning (dreek as they would say in the north-east of Scotland). Indeed the top of the Wolds was enveloped in low cloud as we made our way across the rolling chalk uplands to our destination on t'other side of hills, and January 2016 is certainly proving to be exceptionally dull and damp so far with just half an hour of sunshine and nearly an inch of rain having been recorded since the start of the year.

Unsurprisingly given the poor weather, plus two rather boisterous young children, we didn't see all that much on our walk around the wood, though the resident Marsh tits were noted as usual, whilst a few Brown Hares were spotted and a noisy Jay was on the edge of the oak woodland. The lack of frost this winter also means a fairly good variety of fungus can still be widely encountered beside the more typical year round bracket & earthball type species, the best today was some seemingly fresh Golden Jelly Fungus, the bright, almost luminous yellow fungi standing out like a sore thumb in the otherwise drab winter landscape.

Meanwhile water levels have continued to rise with most of the ditches now full of black and uninviting water, and in other corners of the wood the ground is now fully saturated with widespread areas of standing water. With more rain on the way, and with near zero evaporation at this time of year, water levels will likely continue to rise in this "carr" woodland until at least late February or early March.

5th January 2016, Tuesday
4.3 C to 8.6 C / 8.3 mm / 0.0 hours / E 3
The dreek and damp weather which has so characterised the weather of late continued for yet another day with overcast skies and outbreaks of rain pretty much throughout, though a somewhat drier and slightly brighter period did develop for a time around midday. Little change in the evening and overnight though towards the end of the night a heavier and more persistent period of rain would drift in off the North Sea.

It was reported that Whitby was almost cut off by flash flooding last night with access difficult for the majority of motorists this morning as many roads were closed, including the A169 and the Ruswarp road. How nearby Grosmont is faring I don't know as we are currently down in the East Riding and have not been up to the cottage for a few weeks, but as far as I know everything is OK with both the Murk Esk and the Esk itself running high but still within their banks.

6th January 2016, Wednesday
5.4 C to 7.7 C / 7.2 mm / 0.0 hours / E 4
A wet start to the morning with persistent rain, and whilst the rain would become lighter and more intermittent by mid-morning, it would nevertheless remain grey and damp throughout the day with little in the way of brightness. Drier for a time in the evening and overnight but yet more rain would arrive by the end of the night, this becoming quite heavy and persistent by dawn.

I was up in the loft above our garage this morning on what yet another dreary and damp sort of day here in the East Riding of Yorkshire, and besides the very obvious arachnid presence provided by the webs of Daddy-long-leg spiders (or Cellar spiders) and House Spiders, a few insects were also noted, notably a few hibernating butterflies. Despite my strong aversion to eight legged creatures, I nevertheless like to venture up into their rarely disturbed realm at this time of year to see how many hibernating butterflies &/or moths I can find, the mere presence of which provides a promise of better days to come in the year ahead. With torch in hand I checked all the beams and joists I could reach, in the end noting five Peacocks, a couple of Small Tortoiseshell and a lone Comma, a good variety for a relatively small area. Hopefully they will all survive the winter (and spiders) and re-emerge when spring finally returns to these northern shores.

However as much as I dislike spiders I do find it interesting to note just how Pholcidae (ie. Daddy-long-leg spiders) have experienced a population explosion here in recent years, this once unknown spider at Woldgarth arriving sometime after the turn of the century. In this short-time they have taken over from the once dominant House Spiders (Eratigena/Tegenaria) as rulers of the local arachnid scene, a fact confirmed by the remains of many of the otherwise much larger species within the untidy webs of Pholcidae. This change of fortune for the respective species has been most welcomed by me and other spider disliking members of our family, as some of the House Spiders which live in and around Woldgarth are rather large to say the least, though it does mean that anything which is stored in the sheds outside is soon infested with the silver-bodied long-legged newcomers. In fact we have already accidentally introduced a few to our new home at Grosmont via furniture we have moved up there, and it will be interesting to see whether they will also flourish up there.

Daddy-long-leg Spider (Pholcidae)

7th January 2016, Thursday
4.7 C to 6.5 C / 8.3 mm / 0.0 hours / W 5-6
A wet day for the most part with persistent, and at times, heavy rain throughout the morning and into the afternoon, though by dusk the rain would begin to clear away to the east leaving a mostly cloudy and blustery evening, the breeze making it feel particularly cold and raw. However skies would begin to clear during the night, and with the breeze also easing, temperatures would fall away quite nicely with a touch of frost for a time. However this wouldn't last very long with cloud and yet more rain arriving by the end of the night.

So the first week of 2016 is now complete and weather-wise it has continued where December left off with above average temperatures, little sunshine and plenty of rain. The countryside in this part of the East Riding is not faring too badly so far with just the typical winter problems of mud and patches of standing water in poorly drained fields to negotiate whilst wandering the area, wellies being very much de rigueur at the moment. Nevertheless nearly 50 mm of rain has already been recorded here since the start of the year, which considering that the average rainfall for the whole of January is 54.1 mm, is not an inconsiderable amount at all, whilst sunshine has been completely absent for six consecutive days.

Up in Eskdale it has been even wetter with Fylingdales pushing on towards 100 mm already, whilst the Westerdale weather station has recorded more than 70 mm, the river Esk at Lealholm peaking at 2.1 metres this evening (0.6 metres above normal), whilst further down the river at Briggswath it peaked at 2.5 metres (1.5 metres above normal). However weather-wise eyes are already starting to turn to the weekend and the week beyond with the possibility of snow on the horizon, especially on higher ground, and could it be that winter is finally going to arrive in Yorkshire this weekend?

8th January 2016, Friday
-0.1 C to 6.4 C / 1.4 mm / 2.0 hours / S 3
A wet and cold start to the day, feeling particularly raw out in the open, but by mid-morning it would begin to improve with even some weak spells of sunshine. However towards the end of the morning and around midday some showers would drift over, some of which were quite prolonged, but these would clear by mid-afternoon with a fine and bright end to the day with some good spells of sunshine, a rare luxury this month. Clear spells in the evening and at first overnight, this allowing a touch of ground frost, but outbreaks of rain would arrive later. Feeling colder.

9th January 2016, Saturday
1.9 C to 9.1 C / 3.7 mm / 0.0 hours / S 4
A mostly cloudy day, the cloud thick enough for some rain in late morning, though it did become slightly brighter in the afternoon, at least for a time anyway. Cloud thickening again by dusk with further outbreaks of rain in the evening, and whilst these would die out by midnight it would nevertheless remain largely cloudy throughout the rest of the night, the breeze also freshening from the south latterly.

A wander around the garden after feeding the feathered residents of Woldgarth brought my first Bumble-bee sighting of the year, the exact species being hard to guess due to the briefness of the observation. Given the cloudy skies and temperatures of no more than 8 C it came as quite a surprise, even more so considering the lack of flowering plants in the gardens at this time of year. However the Winter Jasmine along the south facing wall might provide something to keep it going, whilst the very first Snowdrop of the year is just starting to open up in the same area, the solitary white flower being far ahead of the others whom remain a few weeks away from flowering. The Winter Aconites meanwhile are starting to slowly emerge through the soil, the flowers yet to open up, but given a bit of sunshine these should soon be brightening up the garden, the cheering yellow flowers usually appearing a week or two ahead of the snowdrops here at Woldgarth.

Other notes from the homestead today included a Grey heron passing very low over the area, indeed as it went over it was below tree height, but it didn't hang around long and soon continued its way southwards. The gulls were also about in large numbers today in the skies above, the distinctive cries being heard throughout the day, though just three species were noted with Black-heads, Commons and Herring Gulls.

10th January 2016, Sunday
3.5 C to 7.1 C / 0.3 mm / 2.6 hours / S 4
A blustery start to the day with some outbreaks of rain but by late morning it would begin to brighten up with a largely fine afternoon following with some good spells of January sunshine. Under clear skies the temperature would fall away in the evening and overnight with a touch of frost for a time, but again it wouldn't last with cloud increasing later. I have yet to enjoy a nice frosty morning walk this winter!

Kilnwick Percy - My family enjoyed a walk at the Madhyamaka Kadampa Meditation Centre this morning, where a lone drake Goosander was spotted swimming on the large lake of this Buddhist retreat just outside of Pocklington. The centre is located at Kilnwick Percy Hall, a rather grand Georgian property which sits in attractive wooded and parkland grounds of nearly 50 acres on the western foot of the Yorkshire Wolds, the grounds being a good place to enjoy a bit of birding thanks to the variety of habitats in a compact area. Indeed it is one of the few places where Nuthatches can be regularly observed in the East Riding, whilst the mixture of deciduous and pine woodlands, as well as a large area of permanent open water, can provide a decent variety of winter finches and waterfowl.

Drake Goosander at Kilnwick Percy

11th January 2016, Monday
-0.3 C to 5.4 C / 0.8 mm / 0.0 hours / W 3
A dull and overcast morning, the cloud thick enough for some rain and drizzle in the second half of the morning and into the afternoon, and whilst it would become drier as the afternoon wore on, it would nevertheless remain grey and unappealing with little to commend it. Also feeling a bit colder with temperatures struggling to 5 C (41 F). Clear spells developing in the evening with temperatures dipping below freezing for a short time, but overnight cloud would increase again with a few showers as well.

12th January 2016, Tuesday
-0.5 C to 5.7 C / 0.3 mm / 1.0 hour / W 4
A largely cloudy and cold morning, though for a short period in late morning it did brighten up with even some spells of weak January sunshine. However the afternoon would see a return to the grey skies which have so characterised January so far, the cloud thick enough to produce some light rain by dusk. Remaining overcast with further rain at times in the evening but during the night this would clear away with clear spells developing, this allowing temperatures to dip low enough for a touch of ground frost.

13th January 2016, Wednesday
0.5 C to 4.9 C / 3.5 mm / 2.6 hours / W 3
A largely fine winter's day with some good spells of weak sunshine throughout most of the morning and much of the afternoon, though from 2 pm onwards it would become increasingly cloudy from the SW with overcast skies by the end of the afternoon. Feeling cold as well with temperatures remaining below 5 C. Outbreaks of rain moving in during the evening and continuing on and off for most of the night, the rain becoming a little sleety at times towards the end of the night.

Apart from a brief cold snap back in late November, this has been a remarkably mild winter so far with little in the way of frost or snow, and as a result the garden bird feeders have been a little quieter than usual during recent weeks. However as natural food becomes increasingly scarce in the fields, hedgerows and woods, and with lower temperatures during the past week, more birds are now regularly coming to the garden feeders. As usual the dominant species is the Greenfinch, these grumpy looking birds bullying the other smaller species out. Sometimes over a dozen and a half of these olive coloured birds crowd around the sunflower heart feeders, though when a space does open up the next most dominant bird, the Bullfinch, soon muscles its way in. Though both males and females are rather handsome birds in their own right, one cannot fail to be impressed by the bright reddish pink plumage of the male Bullfinch, the neat black cap, blue-grey back and distinctive white rump making for a striking garden visitor. Whilst we have not reached the double figure counts of last year, they are nevertheless almost constantly present at the moment, the highest count so far this winter being six.

Bullfinch (male)

Next in the feeding hierarchy is another very beautiful garden visitor, the multi-coloured Goldfinch, a bird with a variety of other apt names such as Seven-colored Linnet, or my personal favourite, the Thistle-tweaker (a name derived from the Anglo-Saxon name Thisteltuige). Having spent much of my younger years up in the Pentland Hills of Lothian, this was a bird which I didn't see very often until I moved down here to Yorkshire, and even now I still can't help but smile when I see them in the garden. Whilst it is true they are near the bottom of the local finch pecking order, they do nevertheless have one thing to their advantage, this being their thin beaks which only they (and Siskins) can use to access the Nyjer seed in the specially designed feeders. This allows them at the very least to feed even if they can't enjoy their otherwise preferred sunflower hearts.

Goldfinch, or if you prefer, Thistle-tweaker

The tits meanwhile come and go as they do, these busy little birds grabbing a seed and taking it elsewhere to consume, the most common species being the Blue tit and closely followed by the Great tit and the Coal tit. Less common are the Long-tailed tits, the lack of any suet based food this year keeping them away, whilst the peanut feeders bring in the occasional Great Spotted Woodpecker. On the bird table and on the ground beneath the feeders we see the less agile birds such as Blackbirds, Woodpigeons, Robins, Dunnocks and Chaffinches take advantage of any food dropped from above, the very odd Tree Sparrow or Pheasant also dropping in from time to time as well for added variety.

Chaffinch (male)

14th January 2016, Thursday
0.5 C to 3.6 C / 3.0 mm / 0.2 hours / NW 6
A cold, grey and miserable January morning with occasional showers of rain and sleet, the strengthening north-westerly breeze making it feel particularly raw out in the open. In the afternoon lowering temperatures and a strong gusty wind would see the sleet turn increasingly into snow, but it wasn't heavy enough to settle and by dusk it had cleared away to leave a cold and blustery evening. Becoming clear overnight with temperatures quickly falling below freezing, though the breeze prevented temperatures from dropping any lower than -1.4 C.

After a long absence snow fell on the higher parts of the North York Moors & Wolds this morning, areas above 100 metres seeing at the very least minor accumulations, whilst above 200 metres a decent covering soon developed. Whilst this is not the first snowfall of the winter, it does nevertheless follow what has been an exceptionally mild period of weather which has lasted right through December and into early January, and whilst I know there are people whom will not welcome this return of winter, I for one couldn't be happier, my childish enthusiasm for the white stuff still going strong after 33 years.

Chopgate (Bilsdale) traffic cam this afternoon

However down here on the East Yorkshire lowlands the weather was miserably raw and inclement with periods of rain, sleet and wet snow accompanied by a strong and gusty NW wind which seemed to cut right through to the bone. To me the weather is at its most unappealing in such conditions, and having experienced temperatures as low as -16 C, I actually think the weather actually feels at its coldest between +1 C and +4 C, especially when you are also faced with driving sleet & icy rain at the same time. Brrrrr.

In the afternoon the sleet did turn into snow up at Woldgarth, though by this time it wasn't really heavy enough to settle with just an ever so slight slushy dusting being as close as we got to any kind of lying snow. Still it was nice to watch the flakes fall from my office window as they drifted down from the heavily leaden sky, and I even enjoyed a bit of the childhood game of picking out a single flake and trying to watch it all the way down till it reached the ground. However to be honest I never anticipated much snow from this cold spell, at Woldgarth at least, so this afternoon came as an unexpected surprise.

A similar scene at North Grimston (Yorkshire Wolds)

15th January 2016, Friday
-1.4 C to 4.1 C / 0.0 mm / 6.7 hours / W 5
A cold and clear start with a moderate breeze, the ground underfoot being nice and hard after the overnight frost, whilst the rest of the day would remain clear and cold with an abundance of winter sunshine bathing the Yorkshire countryside. Clear spells in the evening and overnight with another frost, but broken cloud drifting down from the north, plus a moderate breeze, again meant temperatures fell no lower than -1.1 C.

Today was the first day since the 29th of December to record no rainfall at all, ending sixteen consecutive 'rain' days (officially any day recording 0.2 mm/0.01 in. or more). Though I haven't been able to check my records, this could well be a new station record as such prolonged wet weather is pretty rare here on the east coast of the British Isles.

Wolds & Moors - We enjoyed what was a wonderfully crisp and sunny winter's day up on the moors today, enjoying the transformation of a familiar landscapes into a winter wonderland. The journey over the Wolds had also been a visual delight with a light but even covering of about a couple of inches in the higher areas between Fimber and North Grimston, the temperature up here still being -4 C at 10 am as we made our way northwards. After crossing the still green, and in places still flooded, Vale of Pickering we once more climbed upwards, the snow line starting just below Lockton, whilst the area around the Hole of Horcum looked particularly picturesque as we made our way to Grosmont, a single female Stonechat at Fen Bog also being spotted on our journey across t' moors.

A snowy scene on the moors above Rosedale

As Grosmont is not much higher than 50 metres above sea level, the countryside down around the village was actually largely green, the snow-line being some 100 metres above this community which nestles beside the steep gorge of the Murk Esk. However that is not to say our stop at the cottage was not without some interest as a single female Goosander on the river was nice to see, as were the garden Marsh tits, whilst in the garden itself the spring bulbs are starting to come up, the snowdrops probably being two to three weeks away from flowering, depending on the weather of course.

After completing our jobs at Rivergarth we decided we would enjoy a drive up on to the high moors whilst the sun was still shining, the snow and ice covered roads meaning we pretty much had the high roads to ourselves. On our journey we stopped first to enjoy a short stroll overlooking Glaisdale, the snow crunching under our feet as we made our way along the wind beaten hill-top which enjoys a fine view over this fertile and attractive valley. The wind was bitingly cold up here, my checks red and glowing by the time we made it back to the car, but I loved it, my wonderful thick winter coat which I picked up at Ryedale Show keeping the worst of the cold out.

Hartoft Beck

Jelly Ear Fungus

Continuing onwards we were now up on top of the moors, the snow almost getting a little too deep for our car where it had drifted over the road during the night, but thankfully we made it over unscathed, another female Stonechat beside the road being our reward for our perseverance. However other than this pretty little bird, and of course the ever present Red Grouse, bird life was few and far between up here, the only sound being the wind as it blew across the bleak, open and unforgiving landscape of what is the largest unbroken expanse of heather moorland in Europe.

Finally we arrived at Hartoft Rigg, perhaps my favourite corner in the whole of the North York Moors National Park, and from here we could not only enjoy the stunning views over Rosedale, but also enjoy a wintry stroll through the mixed woods on the edge of Cropton Forest, the snow bedecked trees looking glorious in the pale January sunshine. The larches up here also hosted a few siskins whom fed high up in the tree tops, and as we enjoyed the view from the bench below the Rigg, a dozen Redwings passed over, their distinctive thin and high pitched calls making us all the more aware of the overwhelming silence. Had we been blessed with more riches this would have been where we would have made our home a couple of years ago, a hidden away former foresters cottage in the hamlet of Hartoft being just beyond our grasp, but at least we are now no more than 15 to 20 minutes drive away at Grosmont.

Looking across beautiful Rosedale

Hartoft Rigg and Rosedale

16th January 2016, Saturday
-1.1 C to 3.6 C / 0.0 mm / 3.9 hours / W 2-3
Another crisp winter's day with plenty of sunshine throughout the morning and most of the afternoon, though by mid-afternoon high cloud would begin to invade from the west. Largely cloudy for much of the evening but overnight the skies would clear again, this allowing temperatures to quickly fall away with a decent frost by dawn.

17th January 2016, Sunday
-4.1 C to 3.4 C / 0.0 mm / 3.5 hours / S 2-3
A perfect winter's morning with plenty of sunshine and the ground as hard as iron after an overnight frost of -4.1 C, though as the afternoon wore on high cloud would increase from the SW with skies becoming mostly cloudy by dusk. Cold again with a high of just 3.4 C (the mean temperature for the day being -0.4 C). Mostly cloudy in the evening and overnight with temperatures hovering just above freezing.

Wolds - Another day of wonderful crisp winter sunshine was promised today, and with any trace of Thursday's snow now long gone from the lower parts of the Yorkshire Wolds, we decided we would head up to the top of these chalky uplands where the snow was still holding on. However even up here south facing hillsides had lost their covering, two days of sunshine melting what was not much more than a dusting to be honest, though in the shade plenty had survived, the frost last night covering it all with a fresh layer of crystals. Indeed given that it had fallen three days ago, the snow was actually still lovely and powdery where it had remained out of the suns warming rays.

Deepdale with a dusting of snow

Starting our walk from the long straight road known as the 'Bence', we headed down past the larch plantation to this hidden away valley which is no more than 1/4 mile from the Wolds highest point at Garrowby Hill (246 metres). The plantation was quiet with little signs of life, bar a large number of pheasants, though as we continued a couple of Buzzards soared overhead, mewing as they did so. It was near here that I stumbled upon a Rough-legged Buzzard a few years ago, my first self-found rarity, but a quick check with my 'bins' confirmed that those today were 'merely' Common Buzzards.

Indeed the morning would prove pretty quiet as regards most forms of wildlife with a few Hares in the valley, and winter thrushes in the abundant hawthorn scrub, though in the skies overhead it was pleasing to hear a few Skylarks calling as they flew over, a bird which remains common on the Wolds but in increasingly fewer numbers. As we reached my favourite part of this walk, the plateau of land known as 'Cot Nab', another Buzzard was spotted cruising above the covert crops, though the local crows soon drove it away.

Snow covered ash branch

A wintry Deepdale

From Cot Nab one has a wonderful view looking southwards across the rolling hills and the many hidden deep valleys which so characterise this chalkland landscape, the distant snow-covered hill of 'Cold Wold' earning its name this morning. Cold Wold used to be home to an old abandoned farm house and it used to be one of my dreams to buy it and do it up one day, but a few years ago the local estate beat me to it and now it is comfortable private dwelling with fine views across the local countryside.

The rest of our walk continued with little further incident but the journey homeward brought some interesting observations, including some daffodils starting to flower outside the village of Millington, plus a number of Red Kites above Nunburnholme and again near Middleton-on-the-Wolds. We also quickly stopped to see if there was any sign of last weeks Goosander at Kilnwick Percy, but since the lake was completely frozen over, it was unsurprising to see that it was not there. I wonder where it has gone?

Snow and frost

Looking southwards from Cot Nab

18th January 2016, Monday
-3.9 C to 3.8 C / 0.0 mm / 0.0 hours / W 2
A cloudy, grey and cold day with little in the way of brightness, temperatures struggling to just 3.8 C (the average temperature for the day being just below freezing again). Skies clearing for a time in the evening with temperatures dipping down to nearly -2 C, but cloud would return overnight with overcast skies for the reminder of the night.

19th January 2016, Tuesday
-1.9 C to 5.4 C / 0.2 mm / 0.0 hours / NW 1-2
A dull morning with low cloud over the Wolds and periods of drizzle at times, but things would improve in the afternoon with even some brighter periods developing for a time in mid-afternoon. However this wouldn't last with cloudy skies returning by dusk and it would remain largely cloudy for most of the night.

North Cave Wetlands - On what was a very dull and murky morning, we made our way across the Wolds to visit North Cave Wetlands, this being our first visit of 2016. A redhead smew had been reported at the weekend and we were obviously hoping to see this as we arrived at the reserve shortly after 10 am, the chattering calls of House Sparrows greeting us as we stepped out into the cool morning air. The hedgerows along Dryham Lane hosted the usual variety of birds with Goldfinches, Dunnocks, Blackbirds and Robins being the most conspicuous, whilst Dryham Ings itself was largely quiet with just a few Common gulls, Teal, Tufted duck and Redshanks to be seen.

Lesser Redpoll

The high water levels meant that both Main Lake & Village Lake were dominated by waterfowl, especially Teal and Wigeon, the former being observed displaying from time to time. Other ducks included plenty of Tufted duck, Pochard and Mallard too, whilst less numerous were the Gadwall and Shovelers. In the distance about a dozen or so Shelduck were also espied, but disappointingly  there was no sign of anything more exotic, the recently reported Smew nowhere to be seen.

Blue tit

Song Thrush

Making our way around the reserve we encountered a nice variety of typical winter passerines, a confiding Goldcrest leading a couple of photographers a merry dance, whilst the alders above them hosted a few Lesser Redpolls, these winter visiting birds having now been resident at the reserve since October. Along the northern hedge Redwings were spotted in smaller numbers than recently, with a few Song Thrushes also feeding in the fields, and as we stopped to watch the birds at the feeding station we spotted a very handsome Brambling amongst the far more numerous Tree Sparrows.

Brambling & Tree Sparrows

20th January 2016, Wednesday
-1.5 C to 5.5 C / 0.0 mm / 2.0 hours / NW 1-2
A cold and frosty start to the day with some good spells of winter sunshine in the morning, though by midday it would become increasingly cloudy with mostly cloudy skies for the remainder of the afternoon. Cloudy at first in the evening but skies would clear later, this allowing temperatures to fall nicely overnight with a low of -4.3 C.

Both today and yesterday I detected a small but notable increase in bird song around Woldgarth, the woods around the old homestead hosting the calls and songs of Robin, Blue tit, Great tit, Wren and a few Thrushes. The odd Dunnock was also heard, though I haven't seen any males competing and fighting, at least not yet anyway. The days have certainly begun to noticeably lengthen during the past week and without a doubt this is what is encouraging the birds to sing, after all the weather is still quite cold at the moment with January 2016 currently averaging 3.4 C, 0.8 C below the 1981-2010 average.

Meanwhile I noted that the Magpie pair were starting to inspect last years nest this morning, and I wonder what they will do with it in the coming months. More often than not they usually take it apart and move to another nearby tree, the nest being constructed largely of twigs collected from the woods and garden, though one year it was also supplemented with an abundance of brick ties which they stole from someplace unknown. Even now I still find the odd one falling from the tree tops!

21st January 2016, Thursday
-4.3 C to 5.5 C / 0.5 mm / 1.1 hours / S 2-3
A wonderfully cold and crisp start to the morning, the ground nice and firm under foot and the air being like champagne as one breathed in the chilled frosted air, but as the morning wore on cloud would begin to increase with skies becoming cloudy and grey by midday. It would remain grey and cold throughout the afternoon, whilst in the evening the cloud would be thick enough for a bit of rain. Remaining cloudy overnight with the breeze freshening from the south latterly.

The garden bird feeders were very busy again this morning, as usual dominated by the four common finch species that we have here at Woldgarth (Greenfinch, Bullfinch, Goldfinch and Chaffinch), though as I watched them from my office window I noticed another bird, this proving to be a rather smart Siskin. Whilst these winter visitors have been heard, and occasionally glimpsed, in the garden and woods since late autumn, it was only today that I have actually seen one at the feeders this year, the yellow and black finch showing a preference for the Nyjer seed feeders.

22nd January 2016, Friday
-2.8 C to 7.8 C / 4.7 mm / 0.1 hours / S 4-5
A cloudy and windy start to the day with rain arriving by mid-morning, this becoming persistent and continuing throughout the morning and into the afternoon. However by mid-afternoon conditions would improve with even a reddish sunset at dusk, and skies would continue to clear in the evening, a near full moon illuminating Woldgarth. Variable amounts of cloud overnight and milder than recently, though still cool enough for a touch of ground frost.

This morning as I wandered out to check the bird feeders and take the daily weather measurements, I came across an obviously diseased Bullfinch, the bird being unresponsive and obviously panting hard with foam coming from its beak (certainly suggestive of trichomonosis). The bird passed away within an hour, its suffering being relatively short-lived, but nevertheless it is always distressing to see any animal suffer even though of course it is very much part of nature, death being one of those everyday occurrences which more often than not go unseen in the countryside around us.

I always take hygiene very seriously here, and as a result I have spent the whole morning out in the rain cleaning and disinfecting all of the feeders, the bird table also scrubbed down with near boiling water and a hint of mild cleaner. Of course the bird may well have been ill from any other variety of diseases which afflict wild birds, and indeed the infection may well have come from elsewhere, but nevertheless I don't want to see the disease spread, finches being particularly prone to a variety of viral & bacterial infections.

The absence of feeders for most of the day did however allow me to count the number of visiting birds more accurately, the birds gathering in the trees as they tried to work out where the food had gone, with the Bullfinch count being particularly revealing. Females outnumbered the males by two to one with six females and three males being spotted (not including the deceased male), whilst at least 11 Goldfinches and 21 Greenfinches were counted. The single male Siskin was also about again today, the bird seemingly roving about in association with the Goldfinches.

Busy feeding station. Note the Siskin on the Nyjer feeder.

23rd January 2016, Saturday
1.9 C to 10.9 C / 4.6 mm / 0.2 hours / S 3-4
A cloudy and grey day for the most part, though there was the odd brighter period from time to time around the middle of the day. Feeling milder. Cloud thickening in the evening with some outbreaks of rain for a time, but this would clear away by midnight leaving a cloudy night with temperatures nearly in double figures by dawn.

24th January 2016, Sunday
5.0 C to 12.5 C / trace / 0.1 hours / S 3
A grey and cloudy day with little to commend it, though with light winds and temperatures up into double figures, it did at least feel quite mild. However around dusk the cloud would begin to break up with clear spells developing in the evening and overnight, the full moon again illuminating the nocturnal world of Woldgarth.

North Cliffe Wood - On a grey and cloudy morning we crossed the Wolds to enjoy a stroll around North Cliffe Wood, our journey brightened by a small flock of Golden Plover near High Hunsley. Passing through the pretty estate village of Hotham we noted both snowdrops and winter aconites starting to flower beside the roadside, whilst the farm near North Cliffe Wood itself hosted a small carpet of white flowers in the shelter belt woodland beside the farmhouse. However the countryside at large is still pretty wintry in appearance, with plenty of standing water and mud down here on the Vale of York lowlands, though the overcast skies today made it appear particularly dark and dank.

Nevertheless in the woods signs of springs stirrings were noted here and there, including some hazel catkins just starting to open up, especially in the warmer and more sheltered parts of the wood deep in the coppice. However these few catkins were very much the exception with most others still yet to open, whilst I also failed to find any of the female flowers on the attractive stems of this most useful of trees. On the floor of the coppice the green leaves of the primroses brings the promise of better days ahead, as do the leaf spikes of bluebells which are now coming up all over the wood. No doubt it will be April before we know it!

Making our way through the dead bracken of the summer past we flushed up a WOODCOCK, the first we have encountered at the wood this year, and one wonders whether the recent colder weather has meant that they have finally arrived. In previous years we have recorded up to 8 (at least) of these elusive birds in this wood, the Scolopax rusticola being one of those birds which has always strangely fascinated me and which has become a sort of personal totem (hence the blog badge). However this year they have been very hard to find, probably as a result of the exceptionally mild November & December, so it was great to finally catch up with this most cryptic of woodland birds.

On the heath quite a bit of gorse is flowering (though when isn't it!) and if you got close enough the faint whiff of that wonderfully evocative perfume could just be detected. As I enjoyed this sweet scent a Green Woodpecker was heard yaffling to the south of the reserve, and as I looked upwards a Great Spotted Woodpecker was then spotted flying across the area in that distinctive direct flying style of the species. In the wood the noisy call of a Jay could be heard clearly above all the other woodland sounds, whilst as we passed the fields just beyond the reserve a few Skylarks were half-heartedly singing in the heavens above, a sound to provide some cheer on what was yet another typically grey January morning.

25th January 2016, Monday
8.5 C to 13.2 C / trace / 1.0 hour / S 4-5
A bright and breezy morning, feeling very mild with temperatures in double figures again, though by midday it would become cloudy and grey and would remain so through the afternoon. Staying cloudy at first in the evening but breaks would develop later with variable amounts of cloud for the rest of the night. The wind would ease for a time overnight but would pick up again latterly.

26th January 2016, Tuesday
4.9 C to 13.4 C / trace / 0.0 hours / S 5-6
A grey, windy but very mild day with little in the way of brightness, indeed the cloud was thick enough to produce some light rain at times. The wind was particularly strong around midday with gusts over 40 mph, this bringing down a branch in the garden (& a single slate off the roof). Remaining cloudy and blustery into the evening, though latterly breaks would develop with variable amounts of cloud for the rest of the night. A mild night as well what with the southerly breeze.

My eldest niece was off school today with a bug of some sort, and this meant we were stuck at home on babysitting duties. However we did enjoy some garden birding during the afternoon, conducting a preliminary garden bird count before the main one this coming weekend, and as we watched the usual garden visitors I suddenly noticed a slightly unusual bird amongst the ground-feeding Chaffinches. With the help of my binoculars I soon realised it was a female Brambling, a rare visitor to Woldgarth (the last one was a few years ago I think), an unexpected but much welcomed addition to the year list. I wonder if it will turn up during the actual bird count at the weekend?

Meanwhile the return of mild weather has seen the winter aconites come out here at Woldgarth, their cheering yellow blooms brightening up the still drab winter gardens, whilst the first crocuses are now just days away from flowering, the pale blue varieties typically coming out before the others. By the shelter of the front porch the solitary flowering daffodil is still going strong, despite being bashed about by the wind today, whilst the odd snowdrop is now in flower here and there.

27th January 2016, Wednesday
6.6 C to 14.3 C / 0.0 mm / 0.0 hours / W 5
A largely cloudy and breezy day again, temperatures rising up to a very unseasonal 14 C in the afternoon. Variable amounts of cloud overnight and remaining breezy.

28th January 2016, Thursday
1.3 C to 11.9 C / 0.7 mm / 3.8 hours / S 4-5
A much brighter day, much welcome after the mild greyness of recent days, and cooler as well with temperatures remaining in single figures. However in the afternoon cloud would begin to increase, accompanied by a freshening SSW breeze, and during the evening this cloud would bring a few blustery showers. The showers would die out by 10 pm though, with variable amounts of cloud for the rest of the night, though the main feature of the weather during the night was the gusty wind. Temperatures would also rise overnight.

The Brambling was again spotted around the bird feeders this afternoon, though the Siskin from last week has not been seen for a few days. Meanwhile, despite being cooler today (indeed their was a touch of ground frost as I stepped out into the dawn twilight this morning), a couple of Blackbirds were singing away as the sun began to rise over the countryside, a sound which has become increasingly frequent during the past week.

29th January 2016, Friday
2.5 C to 12.7 C / 1.3 mm / 3.7 hours / SW 6
A windy day with gusts in excess of 40 knots during the latter part of the morning and into the afternoon, though apart from a short but sharp period of rain around 11 am, it was a largely fine day with some good spells of sunshine. Mild in the morning but temperatures would drop after the rain, symptomatic of a cold front passage. Variable amounts of cloud overnight and remaining blustery throughout, this preventing temperatures from falling low enough for a ground frost.

Despite the strong winds today I did hear some sub-Bullfinch song in the garden, a delightfully modest series of trills and whistles which is typical of this endearing & retiring species. The actual full bullfinch song is not often heard, but the little trill which is usually followed by a soft "wheee" is one of my favourite spring sounds in the garden. Meanwhile the female Brambling was once more hanging around the feeders today, feeding on the ground in the company of about half a dozen or so Chaffinches.

30th January 2016, Saturday
3.1 C to 5.6 C / 0.8 mm / 2.3 hours / SW 5-6
A cold day with sunny spells and occasional showers, these showers being wintry in the afternoon with even some wet snow at times. The breeze made it feel particularly cold, especially in the morning, though it would begin to ease by the evening. Clear spells overnight with a ground frost, though cloud would increase again later.

Great Central Railway - On what was a cold and breezy day we traveled down to Leicestershire to enjoy a spot of trainspotting at the Great Central Railway, this 10 mile or so railway between Loughborough and Leicester being the only double track heritage railway in the United Kingdom. The fact it is double track allows the railway to operate an intensive schedule, and for this reason it is perhaps my favourite heritage railway with something always going on, especially at Loughborough where all the locomotives are kept and maintained.

LMS 3F 'Jinty' No.47406

SR N15 No.777 'Sir Lamiel'

SR Battle of Britain Class No.34053 'Sir Keith Park'

For this years Winter Steam Gala two guests were in attendance, both coming from the Southern Region, with a rebuilt 'Battle of Britain' Class 4-6-2 and a 'U' Class 2-6-0, these represented in the case of the 4-6-0 by No.34053 'Sir Keith Park', a loco which we last saw back in September 2014 at the Severn Valley Railway, whilst the 2-6-0 was No.31806, a locomotive which is currently touring the country and was actually up at Grosmont back in September. Since I have a strong affection for Southern Railway locomotives, partly because the North Yorkshire Moors has three of them, I was very pleased to see them operating in what is after all former GCR/LNER territory.

From the GCR's home fleet another Southern Railways locomotive was also operating today, this being the N15 No.777 'Sir Lamiel'. This locomotive looks rather handsome in its Southern Railways malachite green, the engine forming part of the National Collection, though since its boiler ticket expires this year this could well be the last time we see it for some time. The GCR's 9F was also running again, still operating in the guise of No.92220 'Evening Star', this brute of a 2-10-0 engine looking very smart indeed with its Brunswick Green livery and copper chimney.

Other locos included the LMS Class 2 No.46521, LMS 8F No.48624 (now running in plain BR black), LMS Black 5 No.45305, LMS 3F tank No.47406 (more commonly referred to as a 'Jinty'), and finally a new one for us in the shape of form of the rebuilt GWR Hall No.6990 'Witherslack Hall'. Unfortunately I see very few GWR locos up north, so when I do get to see them I am most appreciative, and today's offering was a very beautiful piece of Swindon engineering indeed, the copper chimney, brass pressure dome, and distinctive name-plates looking wonderful in the winter sunshine.

SR U Class No.31806

BR 9F No.92214 masquerading as No.92220 'Evening Star'

Ralway workers at Loughborough

31st January 2016, Sunday
0.4 C to 12.8 C / 3.5 mm / 0.0 hours / SW 2-3
A grey, damp and cold end to January with overcast skies and mizzly, drizzly rain for much of the day, though winds were very light, indeed almost calm in the afternoon. Becoming murky in the evening with low cloud over the Wolds, though a short period of rain in mid-evening would bring a change in the weather with the breeze picking up and temperatures quickly rising during the night, indeed reaching 12.8 C around 3 am. Clear spells developing by the end of the night but remaining mild and breezy.

I conducted the annual RSPB garden bird survey between 9.15 and 10.15 this morning, watching the feeders and the garden from the comfort of my office window on what was a grey and cold late January morning. In total sixteen species of bird would be recorded, though for half an hour next to nothing was seen thanks to a Sparrowhawk attack not long after I started (it caught nothing by the way). Unfortunately the Brambling which was around last week failed to turn up during the hour, in fact I haven't seen it today full stop, but this was compensated for by the presence of two Siskins (a male and a female) amongst the Goldfinches, whilst a Treecreeper & a couple of Goldcrests also made welcome appearances, the former creeping about the hawthorns and the latter flittering about the Yews in search of food.

In total the birds recorded were as follows; Blackbird (x9), Blue tit (x4), Bullfinch (x5), Chaffinch (x6), Coal tit (x2), Goldcrest (x2), Goldfinch (x11), Greenfinch (x6), Great tit (x3), Long-tailed tit (x2), Magpie (x2), Robin (x2), Siskin (x2), Sparrowhawk (x1), Treecreeper (x1), & Woodpigeon (x5). Birds which flew over, but otherwise can't be counted, were Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Herring Gull, Rook, Crow, Jackdaw, Mistle Thrush, Feral dove, Collared dove and Starling.

Other observations from the garden today included yet more sub-song from the local Bullfinches, whilst a Chaffinch was also heard nearly in full song, the accelerating series of notes just about managing to reach the final climax. Hardly a vintage performance by any means but nice to hear nevertheless. As I cleaned the feeders I noticed that the Kerria is just starting to flower as well, though last time I noted it flowering in January we had nearly half a foot of snow the next week!

Sparrowhawk. Just look at those claws and wonderful yellow feet & legs.

January 2016 Weather Report
A wet and dull month overall, indeed the meagre 37.3 hours of sunshine recorded makes this the dullest calendar month on my records, whilst temperature wise it concluded just shy of half a degree centigrade above the 1981-2010 average. The beginning of the month was exceptionally dull and wet with 14 successive days recording rain from the start of the month, this fortnight period bringing with it 60.7 mm (2.39 inches) of rain alone, whilst the same period produced just 8.9 hours of sunshine. In the end the total rainfall for the month was 77.0 mm (3.03 inches), 142% of the long term average, with rainfall being recorded on 22 days. However just one day recorded in excess of 10 mm.

Things did settle down and improve after the middle of the month, this coinciding with the only notable cold spell of the month as high pressure built over the British Isles between the 15th and 21st. Lying snow was restricted to the higher parts of the Wolds however (above 100 metres), with the best down here on the lowlands being just a few snow showers on a couple of days. So far the winter of 2015/16 is proving to be yet another disappointing season as regards wintry phenomena, and as of writing the forecast for the first half of February isn't looking particularly encouraging either.

It became milder & unsettled again towards the end of the month, with strong winds being the main feature rather than rain this time, the last few days in particular bringing some strong winds which buffeted the local countryside. A maximum gust of 43 knots (50 mph) was recorded on the 28th and one of the garden trees lost a branch during this gale, but otherwise damage was thankfully minimal. These Atlantic gales also brought some very mild air up from the south with them, the temperature reaching an unseasonable high of 14.3 C on the 27th. Indeed, and unsurprisingly given the damp and dull nature of the month, winds were predominantly from the South & West throughout the month.

Average Temperature
 4.6 C
 +0.4 C
Average Maximum
 7.9 C

Average Minimum
 1.2 C

Highest Maximum
 14.3 C
Lowest Maximum
 3.4 C
Highest Minimum
 8.5 C
Lowest Minimum
 -4.3 C
Air Frosts

Grass Frosts

Frost duration
 40 hours

Total Rainfall
 77.0 mm
Maximum total
 13.0 mm
Days =>0.2 mm

Days =>1.0 mm

Days =>10.0 mm

Total rain duration
 107 hours

Total Sunshine
 37.3 hours
Average per day
 1.20 hours

Sunless days

Average Wind Speed
 3.6 knots

Maximum gust
 43 knots

Days with Fog

Days with Thunder

Days with Hail

Days with Snow

Days with Snow lying

Maximum Snow depth

Snow Index