It seems a while since I've taken to my Blog page and crafted a story .... time to put that right.
The spring equinox, the clocks jumping forwards and the first splashes of fresh green in the hedgerows bring an end to a winter that seems to have lasted longer the older I get!
Of course, climate change is manufacturing a new kind of winter in these Wild Isles, bringing a warmer wetter season interspersed with spells of extreme dry, windy and cold snowy spells, more intense in their impact on life struggling through to spring than in the centuries before humans started to make their destructive impact on the planet.
This winter started with hope that the colder weather might bring visits from one of my favourite species ... the Short-eared Owl. That hope seemed well founded when reports came in that a pair of Short-eared Owls (SEO's) had been seen at RSPB Otmoor in Oxfordshire, one of my favourite places for wildlife.
Wonderful views from the bridleway to be had, but sadly as these beautiful creatures quartered the long grasses and reed-beds, this was to be my one and only view of my favourite Owl all winter.
The SEO's travel south for the winter, seeking easier conditions to roost and feed.
With the 'frozen North' significantly less so nowadays, it looks like a trip in that direction to where they breed in the spring and summer will be required if I want to see them in 2023; so it's off to the Outer Hebrides it is for me and a mate in July .... Owl hunting ... with the odd Eagle and Hen Harrier thrown in for good measure if we're lucky.
Red Kites (above) are one of the wildlife reintroduction success stories in the UK.
Their population has grown outwards from their reintroduction to the Chilterns, with the M40 seemingly acting as a satnav guide for their journey to Harris Acres. Lone birds seen a few times a year over the last 5 years indicated that the advance scouting parties were scoping out the rolling Warwickshire countryside for potential feeding / breeding sites.
This winter, we were visited by a pair of Red Kites on a far more regular basis. The thermals and prevailing winds generated by our position overlooking a small wooded escarpment, bring some spectacular sights.
Sometimes, the local Buzzards have 'Top Gun' dog fights with their larger visitors and I managed to catch the action on a cold but sunny day.
The size difference clear, when they joust.
The Kites are scavengers, whereas the Buzzard is a more often hunter of live prey ... Rabbits are a Buzzard favourite meal, but there again ... so are worms when prey is scarce.
The Kite below had clearly found some avian carrion, perhaps a Sparrowhawk had been relieved of its catch?
The Sparrowhawk is also a regular visitor to the skies above Harris Acres, as featured in many of my blog stories. The acrobatic contortions at incredible speed, make this the fastest accelerating bird in the world and a hugely successful predator.
A mid-winter trip to Cornwall for Sarah's birthday, produced probably the winter's day of the season.
A short ferry hop from Padstow to Rock and a walk along probably our favourite piece of coast, through Daymer Bay to the tip of Pentire Point ... and back, was undertaken in the brightest of winter sunshine. Well wrapped up in ski-jackets and bobble hats, we had the best of days.
Golden Plover, Stonechats, Oystercatchers, Kestrels and Black Redstarts for company, sometimes it's better to enjoy the walk and the conversation, with just a pair of bins rather than a camera.
A smart phone can still capture the moment and as a confirmed talentless landscape photographer, I was grateful for its help in doing just that.
The long slow months of January, February and March, drag on.
You learn (at 60!) not to wish your life away as every day is precious, but wouldn't it be great to swap a few days from those three months for a few more May, June and September days? (my favourite months).
Fortunately, despite the lack of SEO's at my favourite Costwolds location this year, the local Barn Owls have stepped up to the vacancy and are benefitting from the local voles who inhabit the mainly un-farmed fields, kept that way to support wildlife at this location.
The female Barn Owl in the pictures above, is a particularly beautifully coloured individual and it is a real privilege to watch her quarter the fields in search of supper - what a sight!
As winter comes towards its end, the local frogs stake their claim to our garden ponds to mate, spawn and then disappear. Some years the ponds are full of hundreds of noisy and lusty individuals! Not this year though. Appearing within a few days of the 18th February every year: this year's frogs conducted nighttime raids, spawned and disappeared without hanging around in the daytime to entertain this wildlife photographer.
A brief sunny morning and a solitary tardy individual, was all that turned up for the annual froggy photoshoot ... this one, clearly in a reflective mood.
The end of winter also sees the emergence from hibernation of 'our' Hedgehogs, who would appear to spend the winter months tucked up underneath the woodpile that sits in a quiet corner of Harris Acres
I've seen two so far, snuffling and grunting their way around where I feed the Foxes, with a handful of Hedgehog specifically suitable food thrown in to encourage their appearance.
... and so to close ... to the Foxes at Harris Acres!
I've been providing some supplementary feeding every night through the winter. The couple of handfuls of dry dog-food and peanuts will be a valuable addition to their diet in hard times and has prompted by my reckoning, at least 4 different individuals to visit every night.
A brief afternoon of snowfall here in Warwickshire, spared us the heavier falls to the South and North, but provided just enough to capture our nightly visitors in a truly 'wintery' setting and my favourite pic of the winter ... what a way to finish!