Personally, February is my least preferred month of the year - usually dark, wet and very little happening on the birding front. With this in mind, I decided to start the month off with a trip down to Norfolk from Carlisle with a few guys from Uni; Ryan Deal, Cain Scrimgeour and Steve Williams to satisfy my birding needs for the next couple of weeks. What was originally set as a photography weekend, quickly turned into a solid birding trip as the incoming cold weather was forcing many of our target species to show quicker than expected. We started the 4th at Wolferton Triangle, a few laps eventually got us rolling with a splendid male Golden Pheasant collecting grit on the side of the road. We promptly headed off to Buckenham Marshes which seemed desserted as it began to snow. Some good birding was had on our walk around the river bank which boosted the trip list, eventually we came to a large flock of geese comprising some 70-odd Taiga Beans and about 150 Eurasian White-fronts. Viewing was difficult as birds kept disappearing into dips etc but it wasn't long before I picked out the Lesser White-fronted Goose (the same individual I saw last January) before it completely disappeared. 30 or so minutes later I picked it out again in a slightly nearer group when it then settled, where the gathering crowd enjoyed good scope views. Wasting time till the Crane roost we spent an hour or so sifting through wildfowl at Wroxham Broad, where we were eventually rewarded with a female Ring-necked Duck, albeit distant and asleep. We got to Stubbs Mill around mid-afternoon, Marsh Harrier numbers gradually increased as time progressed, a single Merlin put in a brief appearance as did at least 4 pairs of Crane - including an impressive low overhead flyby of two whilst stood at the viewing platform. With frostbite settling in - it was time to leave!On the 5th, we woke to a 10cm carpet of snow. Once we had got the car out we headed in the direction of Holkham, stopping occasionally for Grey Partridge and Barn Owls. The latter was even more rewarding when a 1st winter Rough-legged Buzzard flew over with 2 Buzzards in the same vicinity just to the west of Holkham freshmarsh. Once at Holkham we (well, Cain) located 2 Shorelarks which showed very well on the 'white' beach. A good mixed flock of Skylarks and Snow Buntings also contained Twite, a ringtail Hen Harrier also passed overhead. We spent the remainder of the day at Titchwell where the Cous's Arctic Redpoll drove me insane as it took about 3 hours to find - eventually picking it out at the back of a clump of dense trees with Lesser Redpolls. Coincidentally my only previous Exillipes was at Titchwell too way back in 2004. Also of interest were 2 Hen Harriers (male and female), Mediterranean Gull, Long-tailed Ducks (4, inc. 1 drk) & Velvet Scoter (2, 1 drk). For the next 2 weeks I birded locally around Carlisle and Sheffield (whilst visiting Emma) with very little of note. I completed a few assignments early so that I could go home on the 16th for about 10 days. Heading south late afternoon I got caught in a stand-still for about 2 hours when I heard the long-awaited, yet dreaded sound of the mega alert. I was seriously praying it wasn't north of where I had just come from, so massively relieved when it read Gwent Common Yellowthroat!! The stand-still was a blessing in disguise and allowed me to phone around trying to find extra information and arrange things for the following day. Instead of driving to Southampton, I went to Bristol where I kipped around Dan Pointon's place - ready for a dawn assault on Rhiwderyn. It took till about 08:30 before the bird made its first appearance, brief but good views were had as the stampeding ground initially hassled it but once things had calmed down the bird fed in the open in the field fringes continually for about 15 minutes. Typically striking yank warbler - olive-green above, with its bright yellow throat and vent contrasting massively with a black mask stretching across the ear coverts! Fantastic surprise to the month!!
Once at home, a stinking cold prevented me from getting out everyday but I investigated a strikingly pale female Stonechat at Calshot Marshes (19th) that was unfortunately typically European, but 3 Black Redstarts and a single Black-necked Grebe were of note. Nothing at Farlington (22nd), no sign of the Paddyfield Warbler at Pagham Harbour (23rd), but Bittern and 7 Eurasian White-fronts, at Sandy Point there was 4 Snow Buntings and Farlington hosted a drake Green-winged Teal on the main lake. The Dark-eyed Junco was still in situ (25th) but appears to be getting more elusive, Needs Ore held a surprise (27th) when a 1w Red-breasted Goose jumped into view amongst the Brents at Needs Ore (permit only) - the same flock also held a single Pale-bellied Brent and a Black Brant. The Red-breast is probably the wintering Devon bird tracking East, and no doubt the same from Pennington Marshes. A fine way to end the month!! (images will come when I can get Lee Fuller to pull his finger out and send them to me).