I found the coldest of the Winter months here in the heart of rural France to be a strangely quiet affair so far as birds are concerned and whilst there were a few good records with one or two surprises, my impression is that many semi resident birds fly out of the area (probably south and west towards the coast) where food is maybe more plentiful.
There was a very cold snap here during the first couple of weeks of February with daytime
temperatures plunging to well below zero, with heavy snowfall that laid on the ground for weeks. There was a marked influx of finches and buntings around this time with up to 300 Reed Buntings (pic left)and similar numbers of Chaffinches feeding in local stubble fields. Slightly smaller numbers of Cirl Buntings but 150 on the 12th Feb was notable, with c30 Yellowhamers, c60 Greenfinches and c50 Goldfinches on the same day. A single Brambling on the 17th Feb in amongst a big finch flock is a poor return and my only record of the year so far. Surprisingly few Meadow Pipits around, with only single figure numbers most days with a flock of 60 or so on the 31st Jan the biggest gathering.
Good numbers of overwintering Skylarks & Woodlarks in local fields with flocks of 20 - 30 of the former typical and smaller numbers of the latter with 12 on the 15th Jan the biggest number recorded though I'm pretty sure I've had more some days.
Fieldfares and Redwings have been thin on the ground all Winter here and whilst there's been a handful of Redwings here and there I had only one Fieldfare during the whole 2 months on 22nd Jan. Both Mistle and Song Thrushes have been fairly noticeable with almost daily sightings and of course plenty of over wintering Blackbirds still about.
A stunning male Peregrine Falcon on the 21st Jan stood in the middle of stubble field near Pleasance was a sight to behold, albeit all too brief before it took off. Other good raptors around the same time included several good Hen Harrier sightings with single males flushed and seen quartering the fields a regular occurrence with a hunting pair on the 12th Feb. On the same day I had a possible Goshawk (pic right) fly towards me as I was trying to take a photograph of a Kestrel. Just about got a good shot of it but hard to tell whether it is a Gos or just a Sparrowhawk - if you have a field guide to hand judge for yourself!
There was a noticeable cold weather movement of Common Cranes at the end of Jan / beginning of Feb with c90 overhead on the 31st Jan and 45 on the 12th Feb. I'm not sure where they came from or where they were going but seemed to drifting SW. I noticed that whenever Cranes are moving so do Lapwings with c150 and c200 heading in the same direction on the corresponding days.
The last few days of February brought rising temperatures and the ground was fully thawed out by the end of the month. With some wonderfully bright and sunny days from the 25th onwards it was as if new life was being breathed into the countryside and I had some good local records including the first Common Cranes (pic left) heading North with c200 on the 25th and c600 on the 28th over the village. I also had 3 White Storks (pic below) calling and heading North on the 28th and a Great White Egret over the barn on the same day. A single male Black Redstart in the garden, also on the 28th, was my first returning breeding bird and Chaffinches, Greenfinches and Great Tits all started to sing from about this time.
The 29th of February was a glorious spring like day and a trip out to Le Brenne parc naturale was rewarded by a couple of displaying Marsh Harriers and plenty more passage activity with some 800 Common Cranes in total, c200 Lapwings and a very marked passage of Sklarks with maybe 300 - 400 north during the day.
So, into March and I've already had the first returning Chiff Chaffs, Blackcaps, Swallows, Cuckoos, Hoopoes and Corn Buntings. The nest time of the year is just around the corner so stay tuned for all of March's sightings.