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February 2016

1st February 2016, Monday
2.7 C to 14.4 C / 0.0 mm / 4.8 hours / W 6-7
A very windy day with strong to near gale force winds buffeting the woods around the old homestead, a maximum gust of 42 knots being recorded in early afternoon. However despite the wind it was otherwise a dry and fine day with plenty of sunshine, temperatures being very mild for the time of year in the morning, though as the day wore on temperatures would begin to fall away. Remaining windy overnight with variable amounts of cloud and clear spells in between.

2nd February 2016, Tuesday
5.0 C to 8.3 C / 0.2 mm / 5.0 hours / W 6
Another bright but windy day with gusts in excess of gale force roaring through the woods, especially in the second half of the morning and early afternoon. Feeling much colder as well, especially in the wind, with temperatures hovering around average for early February. Variable amounts of cloud in the evening, though around 7 pm a short but sharp shower would drift over, but this was very much an isolated shower with the rest of the night seeing long clear spells. The breeze would also ease overnight with a touch of frost by dawn.

The sunshine and drying winds induced me to enjoy plenty of time outdoors on this Candlemas Day, the garden being relatively warm and sheltered from the strong winds which yet again affected this part of the country. Despite the roar of the wind I heard a few birds quietly singing away in the woods, the whistles and trills of the Bullfinches included, whilst the winter aconites were flowering well today, the sunshine encouraging them to open their cheering yellow blooms. More snowdrops have also appeared in the last week, as have crocuses.

Incidentally weather-lore suggests that a sunny and fine Candlemas is a sign of a long drawn out winter, though of course we will have to wait and see as to whether this does indeed prove to be the case. Still, at least according to our ancient ancestors, yesterday was the first day of spring, and with all the signs of new growth one starts to see at this time of year I have to say I agree with their definition of the seasons. Indeed the old celtic calendar always seems far more in tune with the changing seasons than the modern one, and whilst weather-wise it may still be winter, as regards the natural world things are already most definitely on the turn.

Winter Aconites enjoying some early February sunshine

Crocuses (or 'Croci' for those pedantic readers) in the garden

3rd February 2016, Wednesday
0.7 C to 8.8 C / 1.9 mm / 5.7 hours / W 4-5
A pleasant late winter's day with plenty of sunshine and temperatures hovering around what they should at this time of year. Winds were also mercifully much lighter today, though nevertheless in open locations it still felt pretty cold in the wind. Clear spells at first overnight with a touch of ground frost, but cloud would increase later with some rain around 3 am. However this would clear away by the end of the night.

Swinemoor - With the morning's now rapidly lightening up, I decided to call in at Swinemoor Common just prior to dawn on what was a chilly but mostly clear February morning. I would visit this location far more often if it wasn't for the fact it was on the other side of Beverley, this rapidly bloating & expanding market town being far from my favourite places in this world. Indeed I do all I can to avoid it during most of the day, the narrow streets not being kind to a cyclist, and therefore I try to get through the town before the vast majority of its bleary eyed residents begin their commutes to Hull and other equally delightful northern 'powerhouses' (or so the government calls them anyway).

When I arrived on the banks of the river Hull shortly before 7 am it was still too dark to visually ID the birds out on the winter floods, though despite this I was able to use my ears to identify a few species of bird, especially the Wigeon and Teal which both numbered in excess of a few hundred, as well as Lapwings and the odd Golden Plover. As the light slowly increased a few other species were added, including Shoveler, Tufted duck and Mallard, whilst amongst the Black-headed Gulls a few were already starting to show signs of a developing 'hood' as spring-time beckons. Speaking of spring I also finally came across my first Celandines of the year, well two of them anyway, during my walk along the bank of the river.

North York Moors - After my spot of early morning birding, we headed up to Grosmont to check on our riverbank cottage, the situation as regards its renovation being as depressing as ever with no work having being carried out since well before Christmas. Still the journey there and back brought some interesting and varied observations which did at least lift my mood somewhat, chief amongst these being a hunting Barn Owl outside the Yorkshire Wolds village of Wetwang, and a beautiful male Stonechat near the top of Goathland Moor. The latter species has been almost ever present at this particular location since early winter, the richly coloured bird more often than not being seen perched on the wire fence which keeps the sheep off the A169.

A number of spring observations were also noted on the journey, including my first blossom of the year in the gardens of the affluent suburbs of Beverley, the slightly warmer climate of the town meaning that they are probably a week ahead of us at Woldgarth, whilst in Malton, another overly busy and populous market town, some Forsythia was noted coming into flower in a roadside garden. More widespread were Snowdrops, the cheering white blooms now out pretty much everywhere throughout the East Riding and Ryedale, whilst in the woods above Thornton-le-Dale some Dog's Mercury was noted coming up. Some early Elder leafing was also noted in this same area.

Up on the moors quite a bit of 'muirburn' was taking place, with at least half a dozen separate burns being spotted from the heights of Sleight Moor, this controversial means of moorland management being much in the news lately thanks to Mark Avery's compelling tome 'Inglorious', as well as the recent floods in parts of northern England. Meanwhile the gorse covered hills above Grosmont hosted quite a bit of flowering 'furze', the sight of which, for me at least, evokes memories of past April walks in the spring sunshine in which one is serenaded by the sweet descending song of those first returning Willow warblers of the year. Indeed these delightful songsters should be back with us within 10 weeks or so, all being well, and I can hardly wait.

4th February 2016, Thursday
1.2 C to 10.7 C / 0.3 mm / 1.3 hours / W 4-5
A largely cloudy day for the most part, but it wasn't without some brighter periods as well, especially in the second half of the morning and early afternoon. Feeling mild as well with temperatures rising above 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Cloudy in the evening and overnight with a short-lived period of rain around 9 pm.

5th February 2016, Friday
7.3 C to 11.4 C / 2.6 mm / 1.0 hour / S 4-5
A largely cloudy but mild morning, though towards lunch-time skies would begin to brighten up with some weak spells of sunshine around the middle of the day. However this brightness wouldn't last with cloudy skies soon returning, and it would remain cloudy throughout the evening with the breeze also freshening and becoming quite gusty for a time. After a short period of rain in late evening, skies would clear for a time overnight, this allowing temperatures to dip to freezing, but cloud would increase again later with rain returning around dawn.

The magpie pair were once again observed rebuilding last years nest during the morning, and this year they seem to be building a roof over the top. The local magpies usually don't bother with this design feature, but for whatever reason this years pair seem to have decided to add the extra bit of protection to what is always a large and well constructed nest. Meanwhile a male Siskin was seen feeding with Goldfinches at the top of the Ash trees, and last night I was awoken by a pair of noisy foxes in the woods, these being the first I've heard this year. Interestingly they have been much quieter than last year.

However the highlight of the day would come shortly before lunch, for as I sat back and glanced out of my study window I noticed two largeish birds of prey soaring high to the east. Their build and flight profile was instantly recognisable but just to be sure I checked with my binoculars (which are always kept beside me on the study window) and confirmed that they were indeed a pair of Peregrine Falcons, an uncommon bird here at Woldgarth. I presume that they are same pair which are now seen regularly in the skies above nearby Beverley (they nested at the Minster last summer) and one hopes that they may become more and more common in the skies above Woldgarth in the coming months and years as they become re-established as a breeding bird in the local area.

6th February 2016, Saturday
0.0 C to 11.5 C / 7.6 mm / 0.0 hours / S 5-6
A wet morning with persistent and at times heavy rain (peak rate of 11.4 mm/h), and whilst things would become drier in the afternoon, it would nevertheless remain grey and dull, the wind also freshening from the South as the afternoon wore on. Indeed by evening the wind would be gusting in excess of gale force, peaking at 43 knots (49 mph) at one point, but after another period of rain in late evening, the wind would thankfully ease down. After the rain cleared away shortly after midnight the cloud would begin to break up, this allowing some clear spells to develop latterly.

Since the big garden birdwatch last week, I have decided that I will conduct a weekly count for the remainder of the winter, and all being well, into spring and possibly beyond as well. However I have decided that these counts will last just half-an-hour rather than a full hour, but otherwise the rules are much the same and can only include birds actually spotted within the confines of the garden itself.

With this in mind, and with some free time ahead of an afternoon of Six Nations Rugby, I conducted my survey between 12:00 and 12:30, the results of which were as follows; Blackbird (x9), Blue tit (x5), Bullfinch (x6) (♂3), Chaffinch (x10) (♂4), Coal tit (x1), Dunnock (x1), Goldfinch (x13), Great tit (x2), Greenfinch (x6), Magpie (x1), Robin (x1), Siskin (x1) (♂1), Starling (x1), & Woodpigeon (x5).

7th February 2016, Sunday
2.5 C to 8.9 C / 3.4 mm / 3.1 hours / S 5
A sunny and bright morning with a brisk southerly breeze, though in the afternoon cloud would increase with some rain for a time in mid-afternoon. It would also become increasingly windy by the evening with outbreaks of rain and fresh to strong winds during the night, though the rain would clear away later.

8th February 2016, Monday
3.5 C to 7.9 C / 3.5 mm / 0.6 hours / SW 4-5
A largely cloudy and breezy morning, though towards the end of the morning showers would develop, these forming into some longer spells of rain in the afternoon which were quiet heavy at times (3.4 mm/h). Becoming drier for a time in late afternoon and early evening though another period of rain would sweep through in mid-evening, accompanied by a period of squally winds. Becoming more clement overnight with skies clearing and winds easing, this allowing a touch of ground frost by the end of the night.

A very quiet day at Woldgarth with few birds about, though in late afternoon a decent number of Wood Pigeon were noted heading into the woods to roost, with possibly as many as a 100 passing over the garden. Jackdaws were also seen heading to another nearby location, a common sight throughout the winter months.

In the garden itself a pair of Bullfinches were noted nibbling on the crab apple buds, these being the first I have seen doing this unwelcome behaviour this year. Since the gardens of Woldgarth used to part of an orchard to a nearby large property (the house itself was the stables!), a number of fruit trees can be found within its boundaries, and whilst the bullfinches do a lot of damage every year, I nevertheless consider it but a small price to pay for having a healthy breeding population of these handsome birds to admire.

Bullfinch nibbling on crab apple buds (photo taken 19.03.2011)

9th February 2016, Tuesday
1.0 C to 7.2 C / 0.0 mm / 5.3 hours / W 4
A pleasant day with some good sunny spells, especially in the morning, and whilst the moderate breeze made it feel quite cool, especially in more open areas, it was nevertheless a clement sort of day with temperatures around average for early February. Clear spells in the evening and overnight with temperatures falling low enough for a ground frost.

Some Pink-footed Geese were heard distantly to the east this morning whilst I was in the garden, though despite scanning the skies I failed to spot them. By the sounds of it they were very high, though I also later learned that a trio of skeins were spotted passing over Castle Howard later in the day, perhaps indicating a movement of these birds today as they start to become restless as spring approaches.

However apart from this it was yet another strangely quiet day in the garden, and whilst the usual suspects turned up at the feeding station outside my study window, including almost a dozen Blackbirds around breakfast, it just seems as if we are at a sort of cross-roads at the moment with the natural world not sure what the next few weeks will bring us. Is winter going to actually turn up, albeit very late, or has spring already arrived?

10th February 2016, Wednesday
1.5 C to 7.4 C / 0.0 mm / 7.1 hours / W 3-4
A perfect late winter's day with barely a cloud in the sky and an abundance of sunshine, whilst in the shelter of the walled garden it was pleasantly warm, at least beside the south facing wall. Skies remaining largely clear in the evening and overnight with a decent hoar frost forming by the end of the night, a rare treat this winter!

11th February 2016, Thursday
-1.5 C to 7.5 C / 0.0 mm / 6.0 hours / SW 2
A stunning and crisp start to the day with the countryside whitened after a heavy hoar frost, and whilst this would soon melt in the strengthening February sunshine, it would remain bright and largely sunny throughout most of the day, temperatures again around average for the time of year. Variable amounts of cloud in the evening and overnight, though some long clear spells again allowed temperatures to quickly fall away, eventually reaching a minimum of -3.8 C towards the end of the night.

The day started with a magical frost of the type we have rarely enjoyed this winter, the countryside around our home being covered with beautiful delicate crystals which glistened in the early morning sunlight. A good heavy frost is as good as a snowfall in the right conditions, with the added benefit that it doesn't cause the traffic chaos that a single flake of snow seems to cause amongst the British people, and it was truly delightful to cycle along the frost covered lanes at dawn, the frost hissing beneath my wheels as I headed into town to pick up the pre-breakfast essentials.

As I cycled along I passed the Cherry Plum trees which are now blossoming beside the YWT nature reserve of Keldmarsh, whilst the pasture beside Beverley Minster hosted the usual cherry trees which have also started to flower in the past week. Beside the railway line a host of Celandines were also flowering, despite the cold and the weak dawn light. A quick check of the lakes beside the new southern bypass produced no birds of note, apart from a few Mallards, though I spotted a black rabbit in the fields. Whilst black rabbits are quite common in the countryside, especially near human-habitation, I have never actually seen one in this area before so it seems to be a newcomer.

Back at home the gardens at Woldgarth were much busier than they have been in recent days, the feeding station being very active with the usual array of finches, tits and thrushes coming and going from the three sunflower heart feeders, and the single nyjer and peanut feeders. On the ground beneath up to a dozen chaffinches fed on the spilt seed, joined by the odd dunnock, wood pigeon and squirrel, whilst in the yew trees at least a couple of goldcrests were observed looking for food. The birds were also in good song today, with a variety of species being heard on what was another largely sunny and pleasant February day, and I also observed a few great tits chasing each other about the garden as they seek to establish their dominance before spring.

Frosted trees

Nunburnholme Raptors - Further afield I have been disappointed to read that a particular local landowner has seen fit to plant a double leylandii hedge at the well known raptor view point on the western edge of the Yorkshire Wolds. To be honest it doesn't surprise me as the landowner, perhaps because of his distinctly urban origins, has on repeated occasions shown himself to be rather unfriendly to those whom simply want to enjoy the countryside which he is fortunate enough to own, and whilst the success of the estate as a farming and shooting enterprise is highly laudable, it nevertheless does nothing to diminish my view that he, and many of his employees, are not only mean-spirited but also highly unimaginative. Indeed I do believe that shooting and conservation can successfully co-exist, and indeed the estate does enjoy a wealth of wildlife which does perhaps highlight this belief, but rather than acting out of short-sighted spite surely it would be better for those concerned to actually embrace the growth in nature tourism in the Yorkshire Wolds area, and actually cash in on it rather than choosing to fight against it.

Just one of the beautiful Red Kites which call the Yorkshire Wolds home

12th February 2016, Friday
-3.8 C to 7.7 C / 0.5 mm / 1.3 hours / E 1-2
Another frosty start to the day, the ground hard and firm beneath my feet, and whilst it would be a largely fine and clement enough day, temperatures again around average for the time of year, it wasn't as sunny as the last couple of days with much more in the way of cloud around. Clear spells returning in the evening and for much of the night, this again allowing temperatures to dip a few degrees below freezing for a time, but cloud would increase later with some wintry precipitation arriving around dawn.

13th February 2016, Saturday
-2.7 C to 6.7 C / 0.8 mm / 1.0 hour / E 4
A cold start with some sleet and wet snow, this giving the slightest of dusting's for a time, but things would improve by late morning with even some short spells of sunshine developing for a time. However in the afternoon it would become mostly cloudy again, with it feeling particularly cold in the moderate easterly breeze. Variable amounts of cloud in the evening and overnight with some wintry showers of sleet and ice pellets drifting in off the North Sea from time to time.

Another weekend means another garden bird count, and today I enjoyed a peaceful half-hour watching the birds from my study window between 9.30 am and 10 am on what was a cold but improving morning, the early morning sleet having soon cleared away with even some sunshine developing towards the end of the half-hour. In total 46 birds of 14 species were recorded, this comparing to 62 birds of 14 species last week and 63 birds of 16 species during the actual RSPB survey at the end of January, and already I am starting to see some interesting information being gathered from these weekly informal counts.

Birds recorded within the confines of the garden were as follows; Blackbird (x6) (♂3), Blue tit (x6), Bullfinch (x3) (♂1), Chaffinch (x3) (♂1), Coal tit (x2), Dunnock (x1), Goldfinch (x3), Greenfinch (x5), Great tit (x2), Long-tailed tit (x2), Magpie (x2), Robin (x1), Starling (x3), and Wood Pigeon (x7). A few interesting birds were also seen passing over in the half-hour including a couple of Cormorants, a variety of gulls (mostly Black-heads plus the odd Common & Herring), and a single Greylag Goose.

Later in the morning the male Siskin, which has been coming and going since mid-January, was seen right outside my study window, this allowing me to take a few quick photos with my old Lumix FZ45 which just happened to be at hand. I was actually alerted to its presence by the sound of its distinctive call, the soft twitterings drifting in through my window, and it was lovely to admire this yellow and black finch at such unusually close quarters. Hopefully he will hang around like a male did in 2013 and we will be able to enjoy the whistling and trilling song of this charming little finch once more.

A lovely male Bullfinch at the feeding station

Male Siskin outside my study window

14th February 2016, Sunday
0.3 C to 6.0 C / 2.0 mm / 2.8 hours / NW 4-5
A wintry morning with some showers of ice and snow pellets at first, though in the second half of the morning it would become mostly sunny, albeit rather cold in the moderate to fresh breeze. In the afternoon snow pellet showers would become more frequent, this giving some short-lived dustings which soon melted during the sunny intervals between the showers, though in the evening some of these showers would turn into proper snow with a light dusting being produced by mid-evening. Showers dying out overnight with variable amounts of cloud, the dusting of snow just about surviving the night.

North Cliffe Wood - On a cold but otherwise sunny Valentine's morning, we decided to enjoy a stroll around North Cliffe Wood, this peaceful YWT reserve usually being excellent for some undisturbed strolls through the birch, oak and hazel woodlands which make up the reserve. However when we arrived we soon realised that this was one of Yorkshire Wildlife Trust's weekends for doing work around the reserve, with a dozen or so volunteers joining them, and whilst this was unfortunate as regards our hoped for quiet and secluded stroll, we nevertheless enjoyed a peaceful enough wander through the late winter woods.

Bird-wise it was a quiet morning with just 25 species of bird being recorded as we made our way around the perimeter footpath, though as we passed the arable fields to the west and south of the reserve it was lovely to hear a few skylarks singing. A stock dove was also noted in the fields whilst a variety of corvids (mostly Rooks & Jackdaws) and a small flock of Redwings were additional observations. In the woods roving flocks of mixed tits, including a few Marsh tits, were joined by a couple of Goldcrests and a single Treecreeper, and as we continued onwards a Buzzard was spotted soaring above us.

Most of the hazel catkins are now fully out, the gentlest of touches producing a puff of pollen, whilst a few alders are also just starting to open their catkins too, though for the most part most of these trees are still a week or two away from flowering, especially within the heart of the wood itself. The snowdrops are still going in the NE corner of the reserve but are undoubtedly beyond their best, though apart from these there are few flowers to be seen, bar the odd bit of blackthorn blossom along the hedgerows.

Meanwhile after returning from my nephew's sixth birthday party I encountered my first moth of 2016, a rather delicate and pretty Beautiful Plume (Amblyptilia acanthadactyla) which was actually found inside the car. Whether the moth came from Woldgarth or from Willerby is unclear but nevertheless it was good to finally kick off the new 'mothing' season. As it is Beautiful Plume is usually one of the first moths to be recorded here every year, this easily overlooked species being seemingly common around here, though looking at the forecast I think it will be another week, at the very least, till I put out the moth trap for the first time this year.

Beautiful Plume (Amblyptilia acanthadactyla)

15th February 2016, Monday
-0.8 C to 4.3 C / 1.8 mm / 4.1 hours / NW 4
A cold morning with snow showers and sunny spells, though latterly the snow showers would become increasingly sleety, the dusting of lying snow from yesterday evening completely disappearing by 11 am. Remaining cold and blustery in the afternoon with a few further wintry showers, though by mid-afternoon they would largely die out leaving a mostly clear end to the afternoon. Remaining clear in the evening and overnight with temperatures soon dropping below freezing.

For the first time in more than a month a Great Spotted Woodpecker was spotted at the feeding station today, though unlike the last visitor this was a female Woodpecker. I didn't spot any juveniles in the woods or the garden last year so hopefully the arrival of this female will ensure that we have at least one breeding pair this year. However I have yet to hear any drumming in the woods so far.

Further afield the higher parts of the Yorkshire Wolds saw a covering of snow this morning, with a few centimetres reported around the Thixendale area, including at Robert Fuller's gallery near the village, whilst the North York Moors likewise saw some of the white stuff with the upper parts of Bilsdale, Eskdale and indeed most of the other dales seeing at least a light covering as snow showers drifted down the North Sea coast. However here at Woldgarth, which is barely 20 metres above sea level, the snow dusting from yesterday evening soon melted, and it is looking increasingly possible that this winter may pass without a single significant snowfall event.

16th February 2016, Tuesday
-4.5 C to 6.3 C / 5.9 mm / 6.5 hours / S 4-5
A cold and crisp start to the day with a decent frost, and whilst this frost would soon melt in the strengthening February sunshine, it would remain on the chilly side throughout the day with temperatures close to the average for the time of year. Cloud increasing in the evening with outbreaks of sleet, rain and ice pellets during the night, these continuing through to dawn.

17th February 2016, Wednesday
0.1 C to 4.3 C / 10.5 mm / 0.0 hours / W 4
A cold, wet and raw sort of day with periods of rain & sleet, the weather feeling particularly miserable in places exposed to the bone-chilling breeze, and all in all it was a thoroughly inclement day. The rain would continue well into the evening and indeed into the night but towards the end of the night it would finally clear away to the east with skies soon clearing prior to dawn, this allowing a touch of frost prior to sunrise.

18th February 2016, Thursday
-0.5 C to 7.0 C / 0.0 mm / 6.6 hours / SW 2
A largely sunny and bright late winter's day with broken cloud and sunny spells in between, and with light winds it would also feel pleasantly warm, especially in any sheltered sun-traps. Cloud increasing for a time in the evening but overnight clear spells would return, this allowing temperatures to dip below freezing with a decent hoar frost.

19th February 2016, Friday
-2.0 C to 8.7 C / 1.2 mm / 5.0 hours / S 4-5
A sunny and frosty start to the day with skies remaining largely clear for the majority of the morning, though in the afternoon cloud would begin to increase from the SSW with some rain arriving around mid-afternoon, this persisting for the remainder of the day. Further occasional outbreaks of light rain in the evening and for much of the night with a moderate, and at times fresh SW breeze. Milder.

A single Lesser Redpoll was seen with the goldfinches this morning, this same flock also containing the single male Siskin which has been around the garden for a few weeks now. Lesser Redpolls are rare visitors to the garden, a lack of trees such as alder and birch meaning that the area is not really suitable for them, but small groups do turn up from time to time, especially at this time of year, the vast majority of my garden records coming in February and early March. This has been a good winter for Redpolls with plenty of records from around the country, especially in eastern parts, and I had been fearing we were going to miss out here at Woldgarth, but the single bird this morning has put paid to that concern. Hopefully it won't be the last one of the year either!

Redpoll (a digiscoped photo taken at Woldgarth in February 2011)

20th February 2016, Saturday
1.2 C to 10.0 C / 2.0 mm / 0.1 hour / W 4
A cloudy and mild day with some drizzle and light rain in the afternoon, though this was barely enough to dampen the ground. Becoming drier by the evening with clear spells developing for a time with the near full moon illuminating the old homestead, but cloud would increase again during the night with further outbreaks of rain and drizzle by the end of the night. Becoming even milder as well with temperatures in double figures by dawn.

I conducted my weekly garden bird survey on what was a mild and grey afternoon with some light drizzle in the air. In total 75 individual birds were counted, the highest number yet, whilst 15 species were represented, the best of the lot coming courtesy of at least four Siskins (three males & a female). However there was no sign of yesterday's Lesser Redpoll. Birds recorded were as follows; Blackbird (x5) (♂3), Blue tit (x6), Bullfinch (x4) (♂2), Carrion Crow (x2), Chaffinch (x6) (♂3), Coal tit (x2), Goldfinch (x7), Greenfinch (x15), Great tit (x3), Magpie (x2), Robin (x2), Siskin (x4) (♂3), Starling (x11), Wood Pigeon (x5) and Wren (x1).

A couple of Siskins at the feeding station this afternoon

With four survey weeks now complete this year some 20 species of bird have been recorded in and around the feeding station at Woldgarth since the start of the year, whilst on average 61.5 birds have been recorded during the survey periods. The ten most numerous species, on average, have been Goldfinch (x8.5), Greenfinch (x8.0), Blackbird (x7.2), Chaffinch (x6.2), Wood Pigeon (x5.5), Blue tit (x5.2), Bullfinch (x4.5), Starling (x3.7), Great tit (x2.5), and Coal tit (x1.7). As I mentioned last week these surveys are already providing some interesting statistics, whilst it has confirmed that the once common Dunnock has become quite scarce in recent times here at Woldgarth, a troubling and worrying decline. They are undoubtedly still in St. Giles Wood as they are often heard, but for whatever reason have deserted the garden. Perhaps the feeding station is a little too busy for this rather timid species and I might set up another small ground based feeder to see if I can attract them back to a quieter corner of the garden.

Goldfinch, the most common garden bird so far this year

21st February 2016, Sunday
6.2 C to 14.0 C / 3.3 mm / 0.0 hours / W 5-6
A wet day with outbreaks of rain and drizzle for most of its duration, though despite the rain and the brisk westerly wind, it was a very mild day with temperatures climbing as high as 14 C. Becoming drier for a time in the evening but around 7 pm a short period of heavy rain, accompanied by some powerful gusts in excess of gale force, would sweep through. However after this cleared the skies would begin to clear during the night with temperatures falling low enough for a touch of ground frost by dawn.

22nd February 2016, Monday
2.0 C to 8.4 C / 0.0 mm / 7.0 hours / W 4-5
A much better day with an abundance of sunshine and blue skies, though a brisk breeze and temperatures around average for the time of the year did make it feel quite chilly, especially in exposed locations. Remaining mostly clear overnight with a bright full moon illuminating the countryside, whilst temperatures would dip close to freezing.

The sound of a singing Mistle Thrush has been heard in a number of local woods during the past week or so, including here at Woldgarth and down in the nearby Parklands, the lovely rich song being delivered almost constantly from up high amongst the tree tops. The parklands and Beverley Westwood host a very healthy population of these large resident thrushes and whilst they are rare in the garden itself, they are often heard passing over, their distinctive rattling flight call usually alerting me to their presence.

Speaking of thrushes, it is usually around this time of year that the annual build up of winter thrushes begins in the Parklands, especially on and around the horse grazed pastures of a local livery, but so far I haven't seen or heard any. Indeed this winter has seen very few winter thrushes, fieldfares in particular being few and far between, and as we move towards and into March it will be interesting to see how many, if any, turn up this year as they prepare to head back to their summer breeding grounds.

23rd February 2016, Tuesday
0.4 C to 7.0 C / 0.0 mm / 7.3 hours / NW 2-3
A near perfect February day with clear blue skies and an abundance of sunshine, this sunshine feeling quite pleasant in any sun-traps. Remaining mostly clear in the evening and overnight with temperatures dipping well below freezing.

A Grey Partridge was heard calling in the fields as I cycled into town along the almost traffic free lane which connects the Parklands to Beverley, the characteristic call, which to me sounds like an old rusty bike wheel, being always good to hear. The Grey Partridge is quite a rare bird these days in the East Riding but nevertheless a small population continues to hold on in the arable fields, small woods and pastures which characterises the countryside south of the town, though with continuing and ongoing developments in the area I do fear for their long-term survival.

With the recent fine weather I keep expecting to hear my first singing Yellowhammer of the year whilst I pootle along the lane, but as of yet they are keeping silent, but nevertheless plenty of bird song can be enjoyed already, the chaffinches having become particularly vocal in recent days, whilst skylarks sing from the heavens above on the sunnier days. A trio of roe deer were also seen out in the fields this morning, as were about a dozen Greylag Geese.

Meanwhile in the evening it was interesting to see the full Moon in close proximity to Jupiter, the two celestial bodies being within a few degrees of each other. Indeed it was a near perfect evening for gazing at the heavens tonight with not a cloud in the sky, though it was pretty cold with temperatures soon dipping below freezing. I did have a quick look at Jupiter through my eight inch reflector, and whilst the light from the nearby full moon meant that contrast was not particularly great, I nevertheless enjoyed the view of probably my favourite object in the night sky, the main belts clearly obvious, whilst the four Galilean moons were on show, the volcano ravaged Io appearing from behind the planet during the course of the evening. I really should do more astronomy but since I have always been an early bird, I do find it hard to stay up any later than 9 pm these days!

24th February 2016, Wednesday
-4.1 C to 5.6 C / 0.0 mm / 6.5 hours / W 3
A splendidly cold and frosty start to the day, the dawn air like champagne, and whilst it would soon melt in the abundant morning sunshine, it would nevertheless remain on the chilly side all day with temperatures rising to barely 5 C. A bit more in the way of cloud during the afternoon but remaining bright with plenty of winter sunshine to enjoy. Clear spells in the evening and overnight with another frost by dawn.

At least two Yellowhammers were heard singing in the Parks as I cycled into town this morning, these being the first I have heard this year, whilst a few Redwings were noted in the fields of the equestrian centre & riding school. Back at home I noticed a Long-tailed Tit repeatedly fighting with its own reflection in one of the windows of the old & increasingly derelict summer house, a behaviour I have often seen in other species, especially Chaffinches, but never in Long-tails before. If it does it again tomorrow I think I will have to put a towel or blanket in the window to stop it needlessly wasting its energy.

25th February 2016, Thursday
-2.7 C to 6.1 C / 0.0 mm / 5.5 hours / NW 3-4
A stunning morning with clear blue skies and an early frost, but cloud would increase in the afternoon with skies becoming mostly cloudy by the end of the day. Remaining largely cloudy throughout the evening and for most of the night, though some clear spells around midnight did allow temperatures to dip low enough for a decent ground frost.

26th February 2016, Friday
0.0 C to 6.3 C / 0.0 mm / 0.1 hours / N 1-2
A largely cloudy day with temperatures slightly below average for the time of year, though despite the cloud it was quite bright at times with even one or two spells of sunshine managing to break through from time to time. Clear spells developing in the evening and overnight with temperatures dipping a few degrees below freezing.

I heard my first drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker of the year this morning, the bird utilising a particularly resonant dead branch near the top of a lime tree about 50 yards from the garden. Further interest today was provided by a fox on the southern outskirts of Beverley, the vixen showing little concern as it wandered past me on the roadside verge as I cycled in t'other direction. Meanwhile the blackthorn blossom is now going strong throughout the Parklands, the hedgerows around New Model and Old Hall Farms looking wonderful as I casually pedal to and from Woldgarth. Back in the garden a large frog was encountered in the front yard, the first I have seen this spring.

27th February 2016, Saturday
-2.9 C to 6.1 C / 0.0 mm / 0.0 hours / NE 2
A cold and mostly cloudy day, though there were some brighter periods from time to time, especially in the afternoon. Mostly cloudy overnight but breaks would begin to develop towards the end of the night with temperatures managing to dip below freezing by dawn.

I conducted the weekly garden bird count with my eldest niece helping me today, her knowledge of birds and wildlife already being pretty impressive for a six year old. The weather was largely cloudy and cold with light winds and in total a minimum of 74 birds of 15 species would be recorded during the half hour. Total birds were as follows; Blackbird (x5), Blue Tit (x7), Bullfinch (x3), Chaffinch (x3), Coal Tit (x1), Goldcrest (x1), Goldfinch (x4), Greenfinch (x8), Great Tit (x3), Long-tailed Tit (x2), Magpie (x2), Robin (x2), Siskin (x2), Starling (x25), and Wood Pigeon (x6).

Further observations today included two Grey Herons passing over Woldgarth, whilst the hawthorns growing along the Beverley to Skidby road are already showing plenty of 'green', though these hawthorns are always amongst the first to leaf in the local area.

28th February 2016, Sunday
-1.0 C to 8.1 C / 0.0 mm / 5.3 hours / NE 3
A mostly bright day with plenty of sunny spells, especially in the morning, whilst temperatures were around the long term average for late February. However a north-easterly breeze did make it feel chilly and bracing in more exposed locations. Cloud increasing for a time in the evening but breaking up again overnight with temperatures dipping a few degrees below freezing by the end of the night.

Nunburnholme - On a stunning and sunny late winter's morning we took my eldest sister and her lovely four month old Fox Red Labrador bitch out for a walk in the Wolds, this being 'Rosie's' first outing into the Yorkshire Wolds. The walk of choice was the Nunburnholme Wold circular, this pleasant walk taking us down through Merebalk Wood and the beech woods between Warter and Nunburnholme, and as we passed the winter cereal fields we noted a large number of Hares out in the open, this common mammal being particularly conspicuous at this time of year. Red Kites too were seen almost constantly as we wandered through the still bare woods, with at least half a dozen being spotted or heard, whilst a single Buzzard was also spotted above Bratt Wood.

Near the village of Nunburnholme a yaffling Green Woodpecker was heard in the sheep grazed pastures, whilst above us Skylarks sang loud and clear, a most cheering and welcome sound. The hedgerows hosted a few Yellowhammers, a couple of which were stunningly yellow and stood out like beacons amongst the still bare branches of the hawthorns. With no rain in the past week and a few days of drying easterly winds, the ground is already starting to become nice and firm on the free draining Wolds, most welcome after all the mud of December and January, though looking at the weather forecasts it looks like the coming March may well be on the chilly side this year. Indeed it wouldn't completely surprise me if we saw more snow in the coming March than we did in the whole of the winter, though of course we will just have to wait and see.

Red Kite (photo taken November 2013)

Hares (photo taken March 2013)

29th February 2016, Monday
-2.9 C to 8.3 C / 6.6 mm / 1.2 hours / S 4
A cold, frosty and bright start but soon clouding over with mostly grey skies for the remainder of this Leap Year Day. Remaining cloudy overnight with rain moving in after midnight, this rain becoming persistent and heavy at times.

A Reed Bunting was heard singing in the Parks this morning, the first I have heard this year. Meanwhile at least half a dozen Yellowhammers were also heard in song throughout the Parks, whilst a yaffling Green Woodpecker was near New Model Farm. A few Fieldfares were about as well, especially near Halfway House, perhaps the beginning of the usual late winter/early spring build-up which we usually get here in the Parklands.

Back at home a Buzzard flew over the garden in early afternoon, the large bird of prey being mobbed by crows as it drifted southwards. Buzzards are still not particularly common on this side of the Yorkshire Wolds but they have been steadily increasing in recent years as the booming Wolds population begins to spread further afield. Speaking of raptors I was unsurprised to read in the local paper that a few Beverley residents have already felt the need to complain about the placing of Peregrine nest boxes on the Minster, the birds which nested there last summer having been blamed for the decimation of songbirds in the town, as well as targeting racing pigeons. No doubt these same people will be telling stories of how "blood-thirsty" Peregrines have been terrorising their dogs, cats and children in the coming months as well.

February 2016 Weather Report
A nondescript sort of February with temperatures and rainfall roughly around average, though on the plus side it was a sunnier than average month, a most welcome fact after a run of dull months extending all the way back to September of last year. The month had begun on an exceptionally mild note with a maximum of 14.4 C being recorded on the 1st, but after a wet, windy and mild first week, the month would settle down for the most part thereafter, with plenty of typically dry but chilly February weather to enjoy. It was cold enough for some snow around the middle of the month but this didn't come to anything down here on the lowlands, though up on the Wolds and Moors a short-lived covering did develop for a few days. After a brief milder and wetter interlude around 20th, things would once more quieten down for the remainder of the month with plenty of sunny and crisp weather during the last week with some welcome sharp frosts as well.

FEBRUARY 2016
Average Temperature
 4.2 C
 -0.2 C
Average Maximum
 8.1 C

Average Minimum
 0.2 C

Highest Maximum
 14.4 C
 1st
Lowest Maximum
 4.3 C
 15th & 17th
Highest Minimum
 7.3 C
 5th
Lowest Minimum
 -4.5 C
 16th
Air Frosts
 12

Grass Frosts
 21

Frost duration
 74 hours




Total Rainfall
 54.1 mm
 122%
Maximum total
 10.5 mm
 17th
Days =>0.2 mm
 17

Days =>1.0 mm
 13

Days =>10.0 mm
 1

Total rain duration
 84 hours




Total Sunshine
 100.2 hours
 120%
Average per day
 3.46 hours

Sunless days
 4




Average Wind Speed
 3.6 knots

Maximum gust
 43 knots
 6th
N
 1
NE
 2
E
 2
SE
 0
S
 6
SW
 3
W
 11
NW
 4



Days with Fog
 0

Days with Thunder
 0

Days with Hail
 0

Days with Snow
 3

Days with Snow lying
 1

Maximum Snow depth
 <1 cm
 15th
Snow Index
 1 cm/day