Unexpected Pleasures – Winter Bird Watching in North Devon

The worst winter storm in decades has brought an unexpected treat. We’re seeing birds in our garden that we’ve never spotted before, sheltering from the worst of the wind in our little dip in the moor. If you’re into birds, here’s who we’ve been watching over the past week. 

Winter bird watching in north Devon – The low down

It has been freezing cold for over a week. It finally snowed yesterday, just a couple of inches, quickly blown into drifts by the thoroughly beastly easterly gales. Our acre of land has fast become a haven for all sorts of amazing birds, some of which I’ve either never seen in real life before, or spotted at such a distance that I didn’t get a decent look.
A few days ago we watched spellbound as an adult female great spotted woodpecker raided the bird table less than a metre from our home office door. What a magnificent creature, large and colourful with a steely intelligence in its sparkling eyes. This morning we watched a woodcock pottering around on the front lawn, a beautifully patterned bird with an incredibly long, slim beak. We’ve even had an influx of redwings and fieldfares, hopping busily around on the snow-free earth under a large conifer. Plus a couple of thrushes. Sadly it’s rare to spot a thrush these days, so seeing more than one at once is extra special.
I’d never seen a nuthatch until we moved here. Now we have at least two sleek grey-blue and orange regulars who hang upside down on the feeders before swooping away with their distinctive, looping flight. There are three male robins co-existing peacefully on the bird table as I write, plus a gang of six really noisy, sociable long tail tits. We have lots of blue tits, coal tits and great tits. It has been a great week for blackbirds, with so many in our garden we can’t actually count them. We’ve seen the occasional sparrow, seemingly pretty rare around here. And there are masses and masses of wrens, several of whom are sheltering in the greenhouse, having found their way in through tiny gaps in the concrete base.
We’ve heard flocks of Canada geese and mallards flying overhead. There’s the occasional herring gull and black headed gull, flying dizzyingly high on the way from their landfill feeding grounds to the beautiful, bird-rich Taw and Torridge estuaries. By the sound of their cries the crows, rooks and jackdaws are not enjoying the cold. We have a pair of collared doves who’ve been turning up for breakfast, plus a jay – breathtakingly lovely – that hangs around by the stream bordering our place. We have loads of chaffinches right now, flocks of them. In better weather we regularly see bullfinches and goldfinches, but that’s another story. Oh, and I’ve just seen a lone starling, puffed up all fat against the chill and looking very fed up.
Here’s a ten second video of our local woodpecker. Isn’t he superb?

PS. Update 29th March – we’ve recently spotted a pair of magpies, a heron examining our wildlife pond, and three vivid yellowhammers bouncing around on he lawn.

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