The cold spell from last year continued but the hoped for Bittern did not appear. One of the Park's well-known Tawny Owls was huddled against the icy blast in its usual roosting place on New Year's Day. Shoveler increased to 43 on the almost completely frozen Pen Ponds on the 4th but decreased to single figures after the thaw. There was also a dazzling 52 Mandarin Ducks in the Isabella Plantation. A Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was a rare sighting at this time of year despite there being five breeding territories in the Park of this diminutive and elusive species. A pair were then seen in the same area a week later and at the end of the month a male was drumming. A flyover Peregrine was another unusual sight. Presumably the hunting along the River Thames is productive enough to dissuade this exciting predator from venturing over the Park more often. A pity they haven't acquired a taste for Parakeet. A couple of Dartford Warblers continued to endure the frosty conditions and one was even heard to sing a couple of weeks later. Eighteen Meadow Pipits feeding in grassland beside Conduit Wood was a good sized flock for the time of year. An interesting behavioural response was noted amongst a couple of pairs of Stonechats. This handsome species is normally found in the open areas of the Park frequenting bracken, often perching on top of fronds looking out for items of small prey. It seems the persistent low temperatures had forced the birds within woodland to seek shelter and food. An impressive flock of eighty Lapwings flew north on the 5th, no doubt chivvied by the chill and one was on the rugby pitches, a rare instance of this species alighting in the Park.

Large Gulls are seen daily flying over the Park to their feeding areas and back to their roosts on the large reservoirs in South-West London. To see them land in the Park is unusual. Five such gulls on the ice of the Upper Pen Pond on the 5th were worth a closer look. Four were Herring Gulls, the fifth a Yellow-legged Gull in first-winter plumage. Only the second record of this Gull in the Park which was only given full species status ten years ago. A Snipe was again flushed from Pond Slade and also from a couple more unlikely places – the pond within Conduit Wood and the Isabella Plantation. All these records possibly refer to the same lone wintering individual.

A sunny, relatively mild morning on the 8th tempted some Little Owls out of their roost holes. One of the Park's most well known pairs were seen enjoying the sun and the male even indulged in some calling at mid-day. On another morning a bird was seen hunting before dawn within 30 metres of one of the Park's gates. A Green Sandpiper spent a few days on Beverley Brook mid-month. This freshwater wader is only recorded every other year in the Park. A female Egyptian Goose was found on a nest on the 20th in the top of a dead oak with its mate on guard duty nearby. A dozen Skylarks foraging on the grass area across the road from Roehampton car park on the 29th had probably been forced there from their usual feeding areas by the sodden grassland and kite flyers on the rugby pitches. At the end of the month Water Rails were calling more frequently from the reedbed at Upper Pen Pond and could occasionally be heard during the day, although they still proved to be impossible to see!

Next month more birds will be singing, anticipating the arrival of Spring. The evocative sound of the drumming of Great Spotted Woodpeckers will be heard resonating through the still bare woods. More commonly seen is the Green Woodpecker, which can be encountered flying away from the ground where it feeds on ants. The old rustic name of Yaffle aptly describes its call which was said to be a portent of rain.

Jan Wilczur, January 2009