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Nature's Delight

As days go, Thursday 3rd December 2015 did not look particularly promising, - a dull grey dawn and drizzle in the air. By breakfast time it was hardly light, but I could see on the birdfeeders our regular pair of greater spotted woodpeckers, the male - with a small red patch at the back of its head – busy on the fat slab, while the female preferred the peanuts.

As I watched, a small movement higher up in the sycamore caught my eye, small enough to be a wren, but without the perky tail movements. I grabbed my binoculars and was able to pick out the yellow flash on the top of its head, - a goldcrest; -who knows, perhaps one of those whose nest we has rescued in the summer. Being almost exclusively insectivorous, it was not interested in the feeders, but flitted about in the upper branches, before flying off towards a small copse a few gardens away.

It had hardly left when a family of six long-tailed tits arrived, chattering animatedly as they clustered around one of the peanut feeders, quite happy to all jam together. They must surely be one of our most social birds, never happier than when they are in a large group. Whilst not rare in our garden, it is always a thrill to see them and to know that, provided the current mild weather holds, they are likely to be with us throughout the winter. A less frequent visitor was next on the scene, - a coal tit. From the shelter of the shrubbery, it made a quick dash to the feeder, grabbed a sunflower seed and was off again back among the denser branches of a shrub rose. Superficially similar to a great tit, the coal tit is smaller and has a distinctive white streak on the nape of the neck. The visitor centre at Hanningfield is a good place to observe and become familiar with coal tits, as a few minutes’ patience is usually rewarded with a clear sighting on one of the feeders.

Back in my garden, the day’s excitement continued with a fleeting visit from a jay, which hopped about in the oak tree and was then off again. Obviously it is still finding plenty of acorns and berries in the hedgerows and is not yet sufficiently hungry to be interested in what our garden can offer. Midway through the morning, I looked out to see a flock of starlings, perching in the oak tree and then gliding down to the field behind. But some of them looked different, not the sleek, wings-back jet-fighter silhouette of the starlings, but something slightly larger. At first I thought they might be redwings, but, looking through my binoculars, it was clear that they lacked the distinctive white and black stripes above and through the eye, instead having a dull grey head and face. As they flew down to the field, I could see the pale grey rump confirming that they were fieldfares, a larger member of a the thrush family and a frequent winter visitor to our part of the country, often in large flocks, accompanied by redwings, or, as in this case, starlings.
By lunchtime the sky was still grey and the weather no less threatening, but somehow the world seemed a little brighter for the show which nature had provided and I felt that, even without the sunshine, our winter had much to offer.

Alan Waddoups