Although this is still a quiet time of year at Exbury there are encouraging signs that spring is on the way. Before the season gets into full swing, however, it's worth taking stock of the winter. The winter bird survey is one way of evaluating the season and comparing it with past years. This year's survey, on 16 February, recorded 54 bird species, the highest total yet. Sixteen bird enthusiasts participated in the count, checking the big lawns, the native oaks and pines, the exotic plantings, the ponds, the river bank, the camellia walk, ending up by the house with its fine view over the fields to the Isle of Wight.
Two species, meadow pipit and a little grebe on the river, were completely new to Exbury. One of the commonest sighting was of goldcrest, a tiny little woodland bird with a large dark eye and, as its name implies, a golden crest. It flits very rapidly from twig to twig and is often high up in the trees, but we had several splendid views of it at eye level. Common birds such as robin, song thrush and blackbird were plentiful, and Exbury's breeding pair of ravens put in a brief appearance. Along the river curlew, lapwing and oystercatchers were roosting on the mud banks and an early migrating whimbrel was spotted. This bird looks very similar to a curlew, but has a striped head. Crows are often seen on the fields or flying overhead, but rooks are much less common so we were pleased to see a group of 7 flying along the marshes. As well as birds, two red admiral butterflies flew around a sunny patch, and a few buff-tailed bumblebees were already busy gathering nectar from a couple of early-flowering rhododendrons. The biggest thrill of the morning was the appearance of two firecrests (right), our target species, just as we were giving up. This little relative of the goldcrest has become commoner in recent years, but is still a special bird, and there is usually a good population in the Gardens, but it had made itself extremely elusive until the last minute.
A group of 16 members assembled for the morning walk around Exbury. The early morning fog lifted quite quickly as we made our way along a route that took in the park-like lawns, the exotic plantings, the river bank, the camellia walk (big round buds about to burst), ending up by the house, with its fine view over the fields to the Isle of Wight. There were touches of colour here and there, but most of the rhododendrons, camellias and magnolias were still a matter of swelling buds, with full colour a distant promise.