Nature Notes January 2024

24th January

An interesting sight today at Watermead Park North – nesting Cormorants in their breeding plumage. Formerly a bird of coastal regions, they are now found at many inland waterways and they breed now at the site of a former heronry at Watermead. The park as a whole contains a wide variety of waterbirds, including ducks, geese, swans and waders. Gadwall are very understated ducks, lacking the brighter colours of many of their relatives; they are remarkable however for their finely vermiculated feathers.

19th January

Bagworth Heath Woods is one of our best local nature reserves, just 15 minutes by car from most of our local villages. Situated on the site of the former Desford Colliery, it includes a number of lakes, woodland and heathland. So far a total of 961 species of wildlife have been recorded from the site and even in the depth of winter it can be relied on to provide something of interest. Today a good number of winter thrushes were to be seen feeding on the red berries festooning the Hawthorn bushes. The Fieldfare shown here looked stunning in the watery sunlight. Buzzards are almost always to be seen around the site and this dark-plumaged individual was looking very smart.

15th January

Bright sunshine and freezing temperatures today for a visit to Aylestone Meadows where we rewarded with excellent views of Waxwings. More than 50 of these delightful winter visitors were to be seen eating berries on either side of the canalised River Soar. They are resident in Scandinavia and Northern Russia, but when the winters are harsh there and food is short they migrate to warmer climes. Waxwings are easy to identify. They are around the size of a Starling but they are pinkish-buff and have a pronounced crest. The name comes from the red dots on the wings that look as if the tips have been dipped in wax.

Waxwings feed on berries, particularly those of Rowan trees, and when these run out in their home lands, they migrate – sometimes arriving in the UK in large numbers; these are known as irruption years. The ones pictured here were feasting on Mistletoe, which was a little surprising as they are usually reported to favour red or orange berries. They do move extensively as local supplies of berries are exhausted and they will all migrate back to their home territories by the end of March.
One of our most exotic looking winter migrants, it is always a delight to see Waxwings and these are the first that I have seen in Leicestershire for around 30 years. If you know where there are shrubs still containing berries (especially red ones) then it will definitely be worth having a look.

4th January

At last a break in the weather and although it is still very wet underfoot, we had a sunny walk around Thornton Reservoir in the morning. We were greeted by the delightful sight of a flock of Lapwings; these were a common sight in the county in the middle of the last century, but they suffered a serious decline. Fortunately they now appear to be recovering.

All around the reservoir there are an abundance of ducks, geese and swans, cormorants, coots and moorhen, grebes and gulls. There are also occasional rarities, such as Mandarin Ducks, but these are few and far between.

Mallard are amongst our commonest ducks, but they are remarkable beautiful, even against the muddy waters of the reservoir. Pochard are much rarer, but are seen here fairly often.

Mute Swans are resident throughout the year and are joined occasionally in the county by winter swans (Whooper Swan and Bewick’s Swan) that arrive here to avoid the cold weather on the continent. Mute Swans aggressively see off their rivals with head lowered and wings raised. Herring Gulls are seen occasionally amongst the ubiquitous Black-headed Gulls. They have a very mixed diet, often including carrion, offal, seeds, fruits, young birds, small mammals, insects and fish.

Whatever the weather there is always something to see and it makes a refreshing change from spending too much time indoors.

1st January

The year has begun with rain and more rain, so opportunities for finding wildlife are rather limited. One group that are always reliable in this weather are the fungi and a short stroll through any woodland will be sure to turn up a few. We went to the Charnwood area and in an hour or so we recorded several species, although as always many of them went unidentified.

The trees they are associated with often give a clue, however, and finding a floppy, ear-shaped fungus on an old Elder tree left no doubt that we had a Jelly Ear Fungus. Silver Birch trees are associated with a number of fungi and we soon found Birch Polypore and Hoof Fungus. One species that can easily be found on a variety of substrates is Candlesnuff, with its small antler-like projections.

If you need a sterner test of your identification skills you could try lichens, composite organisms where algae live within a fungal structure. They are most easily seen in winter and can be found on trees, stones, walls, pavements, fenceposts and many other places. The one I photographed here was, I think, Parmotrema periatum although this has yet to be confirmed by the experts. If you are not familiar with lichens then the NatureSpot Beginners Guide to Recording Lichens  is a useful way to get started as it features 10 of the most common and identifiable lichen species in Leicestershire and Rutland.