I was quite excited about doing my mid-month bird count at Lake Farm in the snow, until I woke up to find that hardly any snow had settled. Lake Farm looked bleak and dreary, with only a few millimetres of snow sitting on the teasle heads and the tree trunks.
My bird count started well with over 40 Black-headed and 12 Common Gulls on the west field. Also had one Herring Gull, that I had to photograph to identify it when I got home. Im 99% sure its a 3rd-winter bird, but have entered it in my LNHS report with a question mark. A male Blackcap was pottering in and around the mahonia shrubs. The west-side scrub gave up hardly anything except for a couple of Robins and two Ring-necked Parakeets.
I started making my way around the flooded Willow patch when it started snowing again. It wasnt heavy snow, more like horizontal sleet, and it wasn't settling on the ground, but with the sleet/snow the temperature dropped a bit more, so head down I made for the east-side hedgerows.
To get to the east-side I walk around the long grasses and bramble bushes. This is where I normally see the Stonechats and Reed Buntings. Most of the cow parsley seed heads are intact and the Stonechats are often seen perching on the top, or clinging on to the delicate stems. But today........not one Stonechat to be seen. I flushed a couple of female Reed Buntings from deep down in the bottom of the grasses, but the other ones were hankered deep into the hedgerow. They obviously didnt like the sleet either. Counted eight Reed Buntings in total (which is 2 up from when I was last at Lake Farm on the 5th Jan) and 15 House Sparrows, all taking shelter.
At this point I put my camera away, just too wet to risk getting it damaged, and the light wasn't overly great for getting any photos anyway.
For another two hours I crept around looking for any of the Stonechats, even tucking myself under one of the larger shrubs to get shelter from the sleet for over half an hour and scanning the grasses and brambles for any of the Stonechats. Still nothing. A Cormorant and a Mute Swan flew over, the Blackbirds and Carrion Crows seemed to enjoy the sleety weather feeding out on the grassy paths, and a Song Thrush was rooting through the dead leaves. But not one Stonechat topped.
So after being out and about for four hours, getting fairly cold and wet, and taking hardly any photos, I made my way home to warmth and a large glass of Kumala Pinotage Rose. The up-news is that during that four hours, on my first official Lake Farm bird count for the LNHS, I got 22 species of birds and had a final tally of 171.
My next count is due at the end of January, but I will probably pop back down before then if only to check the Stonechats are still around. On 5th Jan there were two pairs regularly topping and showing themselves. I had a secret desire that they would actually stick around to breed ths year...........fingers crossed they just didnt like todays weather and were tucked away deep in the bramble bushes. Only time will tell.