The heaviest snowfall in London for 18 years took place on the night of February 1st. The next morning the Park was carpeted with 20cms of snow and thronged with people who could not get to work and children who did not have to go to school. There certainly seemed to be more people than birds. Ground feeding birds are the first to suffer in such harsh conditions but can at least move on. A heavy toll, however, can be taken on the smallest species such as Wrens, Goldcrests and Long-tailed Tits. Dartford Warblers can also be adversely affected; sightings were reduced to a single bird on the 7th. This species was famously reduced to ten pairs nationally after the severe winter of 1962/3. It is hoped that the birds present this winter were able to move elsewhere and did not perish within the Park. Numbers of Stonechats also declined. Only birds associated with water were seemingly unperturbed with the Pen Ponds largely unfrozen and streams still flowing; a couple of Kingfishers and a Grey Wagtail being seen on Beverley Brook.

Winter thrushes were in evidence on the 7th with 40 Redwings in Holly Lodge paddocks and 30 flying north along with six Fieldfares. Flocks of the latter were also noted moving through mid-month including one of 35 birds. A group of seven Goldcrests feeding in the remains of bracken was notable given the recent weather and a flock of eight Reed Buntings beside Ham Cross Plantation was in an atypical locality and of an unusual size for the time of year.

A female Ruddy Duck may have ironically escaped its own cull taking place elsewhere in London by taking refuge on Upper Pen Pond on the 17th and 18th. The first over-flying large raptor of the year in the form of a Buzzard flew west on the 22nd. Numbers have increased so dramatically that this is possibly the commonest bird of prey in the country with breeding now occurring on the outskirts of London. This has led to a corresponding increase of records in the Park with 13 seen last year. A Pheasant calling on the 24th was intriguingly a bird that may have been present in the Park for a year but hardly revealing its presence.

Little Owls have been increasingly heard to give their territorial call and Skylarks have begun to return to their breeding areas to sing. Stock Doves have become obvious with their double-hooted call and display flights. The delicate grey tones of its plumage are probably overlooked because of its superficial similarity with its much commoner relative, the Wood Pigeon. It is widespread and numerous in the park with 144 territories counted last spring. In winter it is much harder to find; most of the Park's population probably wintering on farmland. This hole nesting species has an abundance of potential nesting sites to choose from. Whether it will suffer from competition from the burgeoning population of Ring-necked Parakeets remains to be seen. A pair of Sparrowhawks indulged in display on the 24th although in rather dull weather. Next month they should be seen in finer weather carrying out their display flights. It is the female that mainly performs the exaggerated undulations or 'roller-coasting' and sky-dancing, where it rises to a great height then plunges downwards on closed wings. Both sexes will also circle over the nesting wood. By mid-March the first of the summer visitors should have arrived with Sand Martin, Wheatear and Chiffchaff vying to be the earliest. The latter though have an advantage in that small numbers winter in the country (although not in the Park).

Jan Wilczur, February 2009