January in the Valley
Whatever the weather this is one of the best months to visit the many lakes in the Valley to see flocks of wildfowl. These birds prefer open views so they can see potential danger approaching, but this also makes it much easier for us to watch them. Tongham Pool, Frimley Hatches and Moor Green Lakes Nature Reserve are all worth a visit, but Moor Green Lakes is probably one of the best sites in the Valley. At this time of year look out for Wigeon (pictured right), Pochard, Teal, Gadwall, Shoveller, Tufted Duck, Goosander and Great Crested Grebe.
Goosander are colourful birds slightly larger than Mallards and easy to spot with their contrasting head and body. They breed on remote rivers in Scotland and Northern England but come south during the winter. Wary birds they always keep well away from people and other dangers so like large open water bodies preferably without any surrounding tree cover. They are fish-eating ducks and with their relatives the Merganser and Smew are known as sawbills, a name that derives from a feature designed to stop slippery fish escaping.
This is the month when birds flock together in large numbers for a variety of reasons and dawn and dusk are when this spectacle can be breathtaking. There are several reasons why birds flock together. Huddling together overnight to keep warm is one reason, but flocking is usually done to minimise predation - being one of a crowd reduces the chances of being attacked. Flocking also maximises food intake - winter seeds and berries can occur in large numbers and are more easily located if you are part of a group.
Look for flocks of Redwings (pictured), as well as Fieldfares, another winter-visiting member of the thrush family. The largest of all the thrushes the Fieldfare is large and bulky, similar to a Mistle Thrush, but is overall
lighter in colour with maroon, grey, yellow, white and black plumage. It is usually seen with other thrushes, particularly Redwing, forming large roving flocks which quickly devour berries or garden windfalls. If the cold of winter starts to bite visiting Fieldfares, Redwings, possibly even some Waxwings, may be seen feeding on hawthorn, holly, rosehips, rowan and other fruiting berries. Please let us know of any sightings you make.
Our more common birds such as Blue Tit and Great Tit, Robin, Blackbird, thrushes and finches can be seen in the trees and shrubs as you walk along the Blackwater Valley footpath and you could well have an occasional sighting of Green and Great Spotted Woodpecker as well as a Sparrowhawk and Kestrel. Also look out for Wood Pigeon as they feed on ivy berries.
A different proposition altogether is the Snipe. These waders have long beaks, which they use to feed in marshy fields and at the water’s edge. Their brown plumage is excellent camouflage. They will also feed along the River Blackwater at the few remaining spots where muddy margins have not been destroyed. If the weather really gets cold and the lakes are frozen, the riverside feeding areas are vital to the Snipes’ survival, and their behaviour can allow excellent views (if you can spot them at all!). Always worth looking out for are the large flocks of Golden Plovers up to 200+ which can been seen at Badshot Lea (Farnham Quarry) and on the new workings next to Moor Green Lakes.
The ubiquitous common Alder thrives in wet ground and can be found in many parts of the Valley lining the banks. Towards the end of the month look as the catkins get longer and begin to shed pollen.