Nature Notes

Thornton reservoir January 2021 – photograph courtesy of Gillatphotography – (copyright applies)

Thornton is in the heart the National Forest and Charnwood Forest and is the central hub between three of Leicestershire’s most popular beauty spots; Thornton reservoir, Bagworth Heath and Ratby Burroughs; all outstanding areas of natural beauty and teeming with wildlife; hundreds of walkers and cyclists visit the area on a daily basis.

Bagworth & Thornton | NatureSpot

https://www.lrwt.org.uk (Leicester and Rutland Wildlife Trust)

THORNTON  NATURE  NOTES

Spring frosts welcome Summer visitors (by resident Andy Smith)

Mid-April was marked by a cold northerly air flow bringing sunny days but night time frosts. On April 13th a Redwing was delaying its journey north and my first Orange Tip butterfly was braving the cool air. A pair of Red Legged Partridge were feeding on the plough and four Gadwall were at the Top End.

Swan and eggs at Thornton reservoir – copyright Gillatphotography
Grey wagtail – copyright Andy Smith

On the 16th a single male Yellow Wagtail was on the dam and both Sparrowhawk and Peregrine were noted. Summer visitors and passage species started to arrive on April 23rd. My first Whitethroat and a single Common Tern were recorded on this date, and the following day a Whimbrel flew east.

On the 25th there were three Common Sandpipers and two Little Ringed Plovers on the dam. On April 27th a Hobby was hunting hirundines over the reservoir and a Tawny Owl was being mobbed at the Markfield Inflow.

On the 28th a single Arctic Tern briefly graced the reservoir, before continuing its journey to the North East. Also on this date my first Swift of the year was dashing over the dam and three Yellow Wagtails were in the sheep fields.

Common sandpiper – copyright Andy Smith

On April 29th a Lesser Whitethroat was heard and seen near Retreat Farm and Yellow Wagtail numbers had increased to six. On the last day of April a Sedge Warbler was a good find by DW.

Tawny owl – copyright Andy Smith

May commenced with cold but sunny conditions. Bird song was filling Thornton Wood and it was nice to find a Garden Warbler blasting out its fluty tune.  A beautiful perfect May morning on the 2nd was enhanced by both Cuckoo and Grasshopper Warbler singing and showing well at Browns Wood.

On the 3rd a party of four Fieldfare were lingering rather than heading North West, perhaps some avian intuition warning them that snow was on its way. A Red Kite and two Little Ringed Plovers were also seen.

Grasshopper warbler – copyright Andy Smith

On May 5th a pair of Mandarin were at the Markfield Inflow and hopefully are nesting locally. On the following day a Jay was watched raiding a Mistle Thrush nest in Thornton Wood. The robbery took place high in the canopy, with the Mistle Thrush eventually chasing off the Jay. Hopefully a second clutch will be laid and both Jay and Mistle Thrush families will thrive.

Cuckoo – copyright Andy Smith
Female mandarin – copyright Andy Smith

Spotted Flycatchers have also been reported locally and I now await only Reed Warbler to complete our summer visitors.

Andy Smith 8/5/21

Spring Migrants brave the chill (by resident Andy Smith)

I noticed my first Frog spawn in the pond on March 11th and three Chiffchaff added to the spring theme. A pair of Mandarin were off Wood bank on the 13th and the male was still paired up with a female Mallard at the carpark.

The final Webs count took place on the 14th. Totals included 83 Mallard, 74 Coot, 64 Tufted Duck, 21 Moorhen and 13 Great Crested Grebes. A Snipe was also flushed from the reservoir bank.

My first Sand Martins were over the reservoir on March 18th and a pair of Shelduck were found by Dave the following day. A sunny day on the 21st had both Brimstone and Peacock butterflies on the wing.

A superb summer plumaged Black necked Grebe made a one day appearance on the 23rd and this marked the start of a purple patch. On the 25th the cries of Lesser black backed Gulls caught my attention as they mobbed a male Osprey that was circling the reservoir. Eventually it gave up the idea of fishing and drifted off to the North.

Black necked grebe – Andy Smith
Osprey over Thornton – Andy Smith

March 28th produced three new species for the year. Two Swallows appeared with the 90 Sand Martins and a Little Ringed Plover landed on the dam. The highlight was the two Sandwich Terns that flew in low and disappeared to the south. On the 30th a female Marsh Harrier flew through and also headed south.

Early April has been unseasonably cold and the northerly winds have held up migrants. On the 1st Oystercatcher and House Martin were noted and a White Wagtail was in the company of the Pied Wagtails along the dam.

One of the year’s highlights was on April 2nd. A beautiful blue sky was being enjoyed despite the cold north easterly. At about 4pm I noticed a large bird very high and heading North West. I managed to take some photos and was amazed to identify it as a Common Crane. This is only the second time that I have seen this species in Leicestershire.

Common crane – Andy Smith

On April 6th a smart male Redstart was feeding on flies along Stony Bank and he was still in residence on the 10th. Other species seen recently have included Willow Warbler, Brambling and Common Sandpiper.

Redstart – Andy Smith

The weather is forecast to warm up over the coming days. Hopefully there are still treats in store as this year’s bird migration continues.

Andy Smith 11/04/2021

Hints of Spring (by resident Andy Smith)

February was marked by cold north easterlies, with occasional milder days. Signs of spring were evident when the weak sun emerged. The first frogs and butterflies briefly appeared, but were soon back sheltering as the cold returned.

Very cold temperatures of -5C were recorded on February 11th. Wildfowl included 41 Pochard, 10 Gadwall, 15 Little Grebe and a single male Shoveler. The garden feeders were also attracting hungry birds with 10 Siskin and a single Lesser Redpoll visiting.

The highlight of the year so far was the discovery of a Firecrest in a Thornton garden. This tiny, gem of a bird resembles a Goldcrest, but is more richly coloured, with a distinctive white stripe above the eye. (See below for the story behind this wonderful ‘spot’ by resident Dave Wright)

Firecrest at Thornton – Photograph courtesy of Andy Smith

The February Webs count took place on the 14th. Totals included 255 Mallard, 71 Coot, 67 Tufted Duck, 29 Wigeon, 45 Pochard, 22 Moorhen, 16 Gadwall, 17 Teal and 2 Goldeneye.

On the 17th a single female Pintail was a brief visitor and 55 Lapwing were on the dam. Scanning the hedges below the dam on February 20th had its reward in the form of a first winter male Stonechat.

As February drew to a close the male Mandarin was regularly seen and had paired up with a female Mallard. We can only wonder what might result from this partnership! Mild weather encouraged more pond activity with Smooth Newts and frogs being seen.

Mandarin duck at Thornton reservoir – 06-03-21 – Photograph courtesy Gillatphotography – (copyright applies)

A Great White Egret flew east on February 25th and three Linnets were below the dam. Despite frosts, sunny and calm weather had a Tortoiseshell butterfly out on the 26th and the following day a Pipistrelle bat was out feeding in daylight. No doubt hungry after its winter hibernation.

My first Chiffchaff of the year was on March 2nd. It was busy feeding, but by the following day it was singing despite the cold and foggy conditions.

Early March has been calm and cool. Flocks of 160 Starling, 120 Redwing and 22 Meadow Pipit are feeding on the pasture, fuelling up for their migration. Signs of courtship are also in the air. Up to six Buzzards and three Ravens have been displaying.

Great Crested Grebe at Thornton reservoir- 06.03.21 – photograph courtesy Ann Barwell (copyright applies)

As I write the calm weather has been replaced by wet, windy but milder conditions. As spring migration commences no doubt the reservoir and its surroundings will provide a safe refuge for many species as the seasons change.

Reed bunting at Thornton – Photograph courtesy of Andy Smith
Great Crested Grebe – Thornton reservoir – 06.03.21 – Photography courtesy Gillatphotography (copyright applies)

Andy Smith 10/03/2021

Firecrest – Thornton village

We were out walking getting our daily dose of lockdown exercise when Julie said “Whilst I was doing my yoga this morning, I saw a tiny bird in the Christmas Tree on the patio, so I took a picture of it on my mobile”. It being minus temperatures with a wicked wind chill factor we decided to postpone looking at the picture there and then and keep hands in pockets, but as often happens events overtook and it was the next afternoon before we remembered to look at the image. I was expecting it to be a Goldcrest to be honest, so imagine my surprise when I zoomed in on the bird; it was clearly a ‘crest, but sporting a black eye stripe boldly edged above with white! ” Well, blow me, it’s a Firecrest” I said, or words to that effect!! My surprise was obvious; such a scarce species and in the garden too, but that was tinged with a little horror, because I’d probably missed it now, not helped of course by not looking at the photo for 24 hours! ….I vowed to watch the garden closely the next day.

Firecrest – Photograph courtesy of Dave Wright (copyright applies)
Firecrest – Photograph courtesy of Dave Wright (copyright applies)

Sunday morning and I settled in for what might be a long vigil, with camera poised at the ready. I have to say, I had nearly given up any hope of the bird reappearing, when at 12:25 it was suddenly back in the same “tree”, busily feeding. I say “tree” in inverted commas because this was the house Christmas tree that had gone outside, still in its pot, after Christmas was over and was all of 5ft tall. The bird stayed for a few moments, and then was off, allowing a few hurried photographs.

Around 3pm we saw the bird again, this time commuting between a large holly tree in the garden and the Christmas tree, where it seemed to be finding lots of food. We did wonder whether because the tree had been inside in the warm for a few weeks, it had caused a hatching of some microscopic insects which the bird was finding. This time I managed a couple of better images.

After this day, despite my regular watching it wasn’t seen again. I did think this was a ‘first’ for Thornton but in checking the Leicestershire Ornithological Society records, there’s one previous accepted record for Thornton Res in January 2002.

The moral of the story; expect the unexpected (and up-cycle your old Christmas tree!).

Dave Wright

Snow and Ice (By resident Andy Smith)

Early January was marked by very wet and mild conditions. The Reservoir was brim full and the inflow streams were regularly over bank full. My first Woodcock of the year was flushed at Brown’s Wood on the 12th and seven Song Thrush were feeding in flooded fields on the 14th.

A Peregrine flew north on the 16th and a flock of 18 Linnet were feeding on the stubble. The January Webs count took place on the 17th. Totals included 136 Mallard, 117 Coot, 64 Tufted Duck and an impressive 27 Moorhen. Also on this date a pair of Sparrowhawks were displaying and Lesser Redpoll and Tawny Owl were added to the year list.

Twenty Gadwall on the 19th was a good site total and two pairs of Shoveler were present on the 21st. Despite an early frost sunny and calm conditions had a very early Red Admiral on the wing on the 22nd. This early taste of spring was short lived as a good covering of snow arrived on the 24th. This resulted in a movement of wildfowl on the 25th. Three White-fronted Geese were the highlight, and 27 Pochard, 18 Teal and 22 Wigeon were also noted.

Milder weather at the end of January encouraged a thaw with several signs of lengthening days. On the 29th Great Spotted Woodpeckers were drumming in the Church yard, Song thrush were singing and the first frogs were braving the pond. Other sightings at this time included Meadow Pipit, Skylark, Little Egret and Kingfisher.

February commenced with mild weather. On the 2nd 35 Pochard were scattered along Wood Bank and a single female Goosander was resting on the dam. The following day and a smart male Mandarin was seen by Gill and Martin. Also on the 3rd a Buzzard was feasting on a dead goose in the fields below the dam.

On February 7th a Red Kite drifted over the house, already my fourth sighting of the year and clear evidence that this species is increasing locally. Also on this date high pressure over Scandinavia had slipped south west bringing an Arctic blast to the UK. 

As I write icy conditions are forecast, with night time temperatures dropping to -5C. With the ground and water bodies frozen bird species are under stress. Many will be forced to move west or stay to tough it out. By providing food and especially water you can help them make it through.

Andy Smith 10/02/2021

White fronted geese – photograph courtesy of Andy Smith – (copyright applies)
Fieldfare – photograph courtesy of Andy Smith (copyright applies)
Goosander – photograph courtesy of Andy smith (copyright applies)
A deceit of lapwings visited the reservoir on 3rd Feb 2021 – Photograph courtesy of Gillatphotography (copyright applies)
Mandarin duck spotted at the reservoir on 3rd Feb 2021 – photograph courtesy of Gillatphotography (copyright applies)
Tufted duck – Photograph courtesy of Gillatphotography (copyright applies)
Cormorant drying their wings on the dam – Photograph courtesy of Gillatphotography (copyright applies)

Mid-Winter Sightings (by resident Andy Smith)

Large numbers of Canada and Greylag Geese have been using the reservoir, so it was very pleasing to find a new species for the site in their company. This was on December 12th in the form of a Russian White-fronted Goose. There has been an influx of this species this winter and it is the first record for Thornton.

The December Webs count took place on the 13th. Totals included 165 Mallard, 84 Coot, 66 Tufted Duck, 10 Teal, and 9 Gadwall. On the 15th I recorded some good flocks of various species at the Top End. This included 100+ Chaffinch, 300 Redwing, 30 Linnet, 30 Siskin and 10 Lesser Redpoll. Also on this date two Red Legged Partridge and a Kingfisher were seen.

Kingfisher – photograph courtesy of Ann Barwell (copyright applies).

Mild weather on the 19th had a male and female Blackcap feeding near the Church and a flock of 53 Lapwing on the dam.

As 2020 drew to a close other sightings included Peregrine, Goldeneye and a male Goosander.

My final Thornton species list for 2020 ended on 120.

Highlights were four new site species. This included Ring-necked Duck, Shag, White- fronted Goose and of course the magnificent Bearded Vulture. Other treats included Long- tailed Duck, Rock Pipit, and Whimbrel. Six Marsh Harrier sightings was also a record.

Russian white fronted goose – photograph courtesy of Andy Smith (copyright applies).

The New Year was marked by cold and frosty conditions. A respectable total of 55 species on January 1st included a skein of 200+ Pink-footed geese moving west. A second smaller skein of 32 Pinkfeets was seen on January 2nd. The White – front was also recorded on Jan. 1st but not since.

Pochard numbers have also been increasing with a maximum of 30 on Jan 7th. Other highlights of early January have included Goldeneye, Goosander, Water Rail, Little Egret and Red Kite.

With a national ‘lockdown’ once again in force we are all restricted. Providing food and water for birds will be rewarded with some great sightings from home. Apples cut in half and stuck on shrubs will attract Redwing and Fieldfare. Feeders can also draw in Siskins, Redpoll and Brambling.

If we need to escape further there is also the night sky, of which I know almost nothing. Fortunately my son gave me a guide for Christmas that will help. The Collins 2021 Guide to the Night Sky, Dunlop and Tirion (Royal Observatory Greenwich, £6.99) Why not wrap up warm, and with a pair of binoculars, escape the ‘lockdown’ to a distant Constellation.

Andy Smith 10/01/2021

Damselfly – Thornton Reservoir – July 2020 – photograph courtesy of Gillatphotography – (copyright applies)
African goose – Thornton reservoir resident – photograph courtesy Gillatphotography – (copyright applies)
Siskin – Thornton Reservoir – Jan 2020 – photograph courtesy of Colin Harris – (copyright applies)