February has been a real mix of weather on our reserves, from a week of sub-zero temperatures to the recent warm air blowing up from the south. One week we were in the depths of winter, the next was looking very much like spring; these changeable conditions showing us a real range of wildlife across this period of transition.
The month started off cool and calm
One of the first of our summer breeders began to think about moving back to their breeding territory; they likely winter around the south coast of the UK, where it’s guaranteed their feeding sites won’t be frozen over.
An #Avocet returned to feed in the Rushy this afternoon, perhaps it's been feeding in #Severn low tide creeks during our latest cold spell. Kept busy swishing that incredible bill through the mud and found plenty to eat. @WWTSlimbridge pic.twitter.com/8RbYgU17N8— Slimbridge Sightings (@slimbridge_wild) January 31, 2021
On the other side of the country, Welney shared some beautiful scenes with us for World Wetlands Day.
And Steart treated us to camera trap footage of wildlife on their reserve to celebrate the event.
Today is #WorldWetlandsDay - let's celebrate with some of the wildlife that has passed the cameras @WWTSteart in the last few weeks...— WWT Steart Marshes (@WWTSteart) February 2, 2021
a water rail (notoriously shy and elusive birds)
and a moorhen sliding its way across the frozen ditch! pic.twitter.com/4JT0WIe9zy
The temperature drops
Slimbridge’s avocet were still around before the ‘Beast from the East 2’ kicked in.
Biting NE winds today, the hint of Spring on hold as many birds seek shelter and hunker down. Eleven Avocet now on the South Lake, at least until the water freezes. Brrr! pic.twitter.com/jQn570pUlN— Slimbridge Sightings (@slimbridge_wild) February 7, 2021
And the little egrets were sheltering from the wind chill as the weather worsened.
A daytime count of 20 Little Egrets in the Duck Decoy + 2 Cattle Egrets and a Grey Heron. The flock has chosen the most sheltered water on site, all are staying very low to escape the worst of the wind chill. pic.twitter.com/JrbNtRTGAO— Slimbridge Sightings (@slimbridge_wild) February 7, 2021
Even with the onset of the cold weather, these Bewick’s swans looked like they were starting to think about migration. They did leave, but were turned back by storm Darcy and by 9th had returned. Read more about how the weather affects migratory birds.
59 Bewick's Swans today ( down from 78 yesterday) 19 appear to have departed overnight. The pair with two cygnets made a flight at lunchtime, you can hear them 'talking' to each other. Surely not thinking about taking on migration in these cold NE winds. (MJM) @WWTSlimbridge pic.twitter.com/RBHUp8YpD4— Slimbridge Sightings (@slimbridge_wild) February 7, 2021
There were snowy scenes at Welney as the cold weather settled.
Snow and frost make everything look beautiful, here are some scenes from around the reserve this week. Doesn't that hare form look nice and cosy, great protection against wind and snow, but a hare has got to eat so can't sit there all day long. pic.twitter.com/6O3mGucD3n— WWT Welney (@WWTWelney) February 10, 2021
And the Llanelli webcam was busy with siskin and woodpecker keeping fed in the cold.
The cold weather meant lots of swans were in need of an easy meal at Martin Mere.
BEAST FROM THE EAST: At one point last week there was only one whooper swan on the mere but, as local fields iced over, the whoopers returned for the daily grain handouts. There are now almost 500 swans hanging around all day. pic.twitter.com/PJrXc530Y8— WWT Martin Mere (@WWTMartinMere) February 13, 2021
With snowy scenes abound at Washington.
It's Monday and I'm sure we could all do with a #MondayMindfulMinute. 60 seconds of the sights and sounds of nature in our wonderful wetlands. Today we're looking over a rather sombre and snow-covered stream channel! pic.twitter.com/27lAr7Jr5V— WWT Washington (@WWTWashington) February 15, 2021
Since Storm Darcy pushed them back, the Bewick’s spent some time recovering on the Slimbridge reserve.
Sound on to listen to the Bewick's Swans arriving for the day on the Tack Piece. The next migration attempt will happen any day now! (MJM). pic.twitter.com/Catnco3Q4h— Slimbridge Sightings (@slimbridge_wild) February 15, 2021
Along with other Russian migrants still on their wintering grounds.
The ice melts
As things warmed up little by little, an unusual sight unfolded at Martin Mere.
RUFF WATER RAFTING: Martin Mere hosts one of the UK's biggest overwintering flocks of Ruff. One can sometimes see individuals of these waders swimming from one feeding area to another but it is unusual to see a raft of them swimming around amongst the wildfowl ducks and geese. pic.twitter.com/IYDZS0EWtU— WWT Martin Mere (@WWTMartinMere) February 16, 2021
With the wind direction swinging from the east to the south, Llanelli saw the year’s first arrival of wheatear in the whole of the British Isles.
Up at Caerlaverock, the thaw meant that all birds could feed easy again.
The ducks seem to be enjoying the wet weather! Video taken by Faith Hillier. pic.twitter.com/YagrT1cEiO— WWT Caerlaverock (@WWTCaerlaverock) February 20, 2021
Spring is just around the corner
In the last week, birds at Slimbridge have started to display and claim territory.
Shelduck 'lek' on the roof of the Caribbean Flamingo House and a pair of Oystercatcher claiming a rooftop nest territory on the Discovery Hide (MJM). #Springwatch @WWTSlimbridge pic.twitter.com/9l9eNK1BjF— Slimbridge Sightings (@slimbridge_wild) February 21, 2021
Little Grebe influx!— Slimbridge Sightings (@slimbridge_wild) February 23, 2021
Breeding birds arriving back on territory. Singles at the Duck Decoy Pond, Top New Piece flash, pair at South Finger Pool (Kingfisher bank) and three on South Lake, a pair chasing an intruder in choppy conditions. (MJM). pic.twitter.com/qNQg9KAfR6
The weather is clearing up but there was still a strong wind blowing at Castle Espie.
Weather conditions on Strangford Lough can be challenging for most of us, not least the ducks, geese and birds which migrate here over winter 💦Lucky they have the Peninsula Saltmarsh at Castle Espie to retreat to for cover😍#wetlands #conservation #birdwatching #StrangfordLough pic.twitter.com/2oCI8EiIPv— WWT Castle Espie (@WWTCastleEspie) February 22, 2021
With weather patterns also encouraging birds to drop in to Washington.
A couple of male common pochard arrived on Wader Lake yesterday. Not hugely uncommon, but certainly not a regular sighting for us here at Washington. They've remained on the lake since (mainly sleeping when we arrived to film 🙄) so we'll see how long they stay for! pic.twitter.com/Bt4adKPUOD— WWT Washington (@WWTWashington) February 25, 2021
Remember the Bewick’s that attempted a migration but got blown back by Storm Darcy? In the end, it was another two weeks until they eventually left Slimbridge.
Join us again at the end of March for another roundup. We’ll hopefully be seeing the first summer migrants back with us, such as little-ringed plovers, sand martins and perhaps even a garganey. We’ll also be keeping a look out for the first hatchlings. Our centres will still be closed in the meantime, so be sure to keep up-to-date with wildlife news on all centres social media channels.
Take a look at what is going on for yourself on our webcams: