Wintering male Stonechat at Cockersands courtesy of Phil Slade.
Always willing to post a Stonechat pic but this isn't just any Stonechat pic this was the only surviving one - since this years return of the ice-age - in our area and well beyond if the truth be known. You'll note the use of the word 'was' as I now have information on a Stonechat seen at Singleton on 17 February. But one thing for sure I saw not single bird again today in my four hour stint on Clougha/Birk Bank and there's a lot needs to be said about this if only in brief.
Bleak and empty up here today but what did I expect, this is Clougha and its February in the coldest winter in years. But the truth is that its the first January and February in more than ten years I've been coming up here and for the second consecutive visit have seen no Stonechats, but again the truth is I didn't really expect to.
In my view based on more than ten years observing and studying the Stonechat especially on Clougha - but elsewhere in many areas too - we are now back to pre 1999 and the upturn in the status of this species which was dramatic at first is now over.
The majority of our Stonechats remain to winter on or near to their breeding territories though some make longer movements within the UK. A minority migrate to southern Europe and the coastal countries of North Africa, and during the mild winters we have been experiencing the population that remains have had the advantage over the migratory population in that they can commence breeding earlier. However, following this winters severe weather - when lets face it the resident population will no doubt have perished - the migrant population will have to take on the responsibility of getting the species back on track to build up the numbers to reach a situation whereby the sedentary part of the population regains the advantage of being in the position to start their breeding before the migrants return again which is precisely where the Stonechat has been for the past ten years at least until this winter of 2009/10.
I think speculation was that global warming would allow the sedentary population to increase to such an extent that in the future the European Stonechat may become entirely resident in the UK. I'm no ornithological expert and don't think I need to be to hold the view that this winter has killed off that speculation and set it back at least five years....but what of next winter!
So the rewards for a four hour lonely trundle up Clougha/Birk Bank today were....15 Red Grouse, 2 Buzzard, and at least 80 Lapwings were noted in the fields off Rigg Lane.