Birdwatch: Stonechat

Small birds find winter weather a struggle - both to keep warm and find food. Many resort to garden bird feeders to help them survive but the stonechat stays out in the countryside.

As a result stonechats face lower temperatures and a harder struggle to find food. It means many will die in prolonged periods of ice and snow, such as those in the winters of 2009-10 and 2010 -11.

Even worse was the winter of 1962-63 which saw the British population all but wiped out but milder winters have seen numbers bounce back.

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Stonechats can reproduce quickly following hard winters with two, three or even four broods of six youngsters possible.

The male is a very handsome bird with a dark chocolate brown head and upperparts contrasting with a peachy orange breast and bright white collar. The female, although less colourful, is also an attractive bird.

Like their relative the robin, they have rapid jerky movements and are easily seen perched on reeds or gorse.

Stonechats move away from uplands in the autumn, usually to sites near water where it is still possible to find small insects to feed on although they will also take seeds and berries.

There have been at least five stonechats seen in the reedbeds on the Blacktoft Sands reserve near Goole, the highest number since 2011 and it is a similar story at sites across Yorkshire.

Another stonechat to look out for, especially near the coast, is the Siberian stonechat which, it was decided in 2011, is a separate species.

It differs from our resident species in being darker above, paler below and with a white rump and in the male, a broader white collar. A first-winter male was present at Scalby Mills, Scarborough in October last year.

The Blyth’s pipit continued to be seen on spare land at the Calder business park, Wakefield and two Richard’s pipits at Hayburn Wyke north of Scarborough.

A drake smew has been seen again at Wintersett reservoir, West Yorkshire - so far there have been hardly any others in the region.

A great northern diver remained at Mixenden reservoir, Halifax while a great grey shrike was seen again at Thorne Moors, South Yorkshire.

A black redstart was reported at Bridlington Harbour and a rough-legged buzzard is still being seen along the road to Grindale just north of the resort.

There was a record December count of 14 pomarine skuas off Flamborough Head and others off Filey and Spurn along with one or two Arctic and great skuas.

The raptor roost on the Blacktoft Sands reserve continues to be excellent with 20 or more marsh and three hen harriers, including two males, and three merlins.

Michael Flowers is taking bookings for his 10-week East Yorkshire birdwatching courses starting on January 6. For more details, contact him at [email protected] or on 07946 625688.