I’m not keen on snow; however what I do like is birding in the snow. The harsh conditions mean that birds you don’t usually see on your local patch or walk to work can turn up, so there’s bound to be something new and exciting. After finishing college at midday I decided the best thing would be to go home rather than risk a hectic trip home if the forecast heavy snow turned up. Arriving at home and still no snow in sight I decided to head out and do a bit of snow birding.
My choice today was Figham Common, I used to visit here all the time however recently have favoured High Eske and Swinemoor. The last snow birding I did on here turned up goosander and golden plover so I was hoping for some patch gold when I carefully negotiated my way along the icy beckside path. On my way to the common I picked up two easy year ticks of dunnock and song thrush.
The entrance to the common was rather treacherous with large sheets of ice cracking beneath my feet. The cracking of this ice caused a cormorant to take flight from the river. The first sign of the difference snow and ice make was the large number of coots using the river. Coot can be a surprisingly rare bird for Figham; they can be seen in the angling ponds in the surrounding area but very rarely on the river. The ground next to the river but before the embankment is the only area clear from snow (probably river has raised and washed snow away at some point) meaning that this area was a hive of activity. A number of reed buntings were constantly seen feeding here; again this is unusual activity with reed buntings favouring the grass and reeds in the middle of the common rather than bankside. A large flock of lapwings which normally feed in the field on the opposite side of the river also took advantage of this unfrozen ground. Fieldfare and redwing were also present.
I counted three little grebe on the river, which is my highest count. However the biggest rise in numbers was cormorants, on a good day you’ll see three or four following the river. Today I counted 9 stood on the opposite river bank at the southern end of the common and with a few more flying around.
As I walked the river four yellow beaked swans came down. Although they were a bit too far out for my ID skills (didn’t take scope), I managed to pick up a large amount of yellow on one of the beaks and their necks were very straight and long when they had them up (soon tucked them away) so going with whooper. PATCH GOLD!
I walked a bit further to the far end of the common to check the angling pond. There was a small area free from ice in the middle which contained two drake mandarin ducks and a possible female along with a coot and two domestic mallard. Mandarin would not only be a patch first but a lifer. Now need to decide if my conscience will allow me to tick it, seen as it was joined by two black swans that carefully waddled across the ice to the water. I’m not sure about the population of black swans in East Yorkshire but I’ve seen a pair at other sites (North Cave, High Eske) and heard of a pair reported elsewhere. Is it the same nomadic pair?
My walk back added little extra apart from redshank year tick. Was hoping to pick up a barn owl or short eared owl, both have been seen on the site recently but no luck today.