Posted by: Ross Gardner | March 2, 2018

Poles Apart

Crouch Estuary Hullbridge - snow (scaled)

A true Arctic blast over the Crouch Estuary in Essex

Strange to be one moment editing photos of a Southern Hemisphere summer so recently experienced in New Zealand, or indeed writing posts on the balmy tropical climes of Borneo, then the next turning thoughts to a genuine taste of an Arctic winter, currently being experienced by the UK at present.  But there it is.  From images of gleaming Kiwi coasts and teeming equatorial forest, to musings of a land clenched with cold.  One small way in which travel enriches our experience of things beyond the initial geographical context of being in different places.

And true enough, the Arctic has extended its influence, temporarily beyond that of the warming Gulf Stream. It is a long while since I have seen salt-water freeze, but that is what I found along the salt-marsh fringes of the River Crouch a couple of days ago.  While some may be reading this in such wintry realms as the northern US states, Canada or Scandinavia and wondering quite what the fuss is all about, our taste of deep, deep winter has been asking questions, human inhabitants aside. of the UK residents.

Another journey into work on another sub-zero morning was all required to yield a couple of locally unusual wildlife sightings.  Firstly, a Brown Hare in nearby farmland, betrayed mid-field by the snowy expanse.  They occur more widely just across the river beyond its northern shore, but this was the first I had seen hereabouts for 20 years.  Then further on the journey to school a Buzzard circling over rough grassland on the edge of a retail estate; again, not especially unusual in the wider sense, but an unexpected occurrence on this occasion.  Two signs perhaps of creatures having to work all the harder for the difficulty of finding food.

The biggest surprise of all was to come.  It was a Woodcock.  Once more, nor entirely unexpected.  The UK receives increased numbers of these resident, woodland-dwelling wading birds, with winter migrants visiting from Europe and boosting the population from around 100,000 birds to well over a million.  Most of them however, don’t descend on a suburban garden next to a supermarket car park.  Yet I found myself watching one  foraging around the flower-pots and washing-line pole in my parents small back garden.  I have seen many a woodcock before, usually inadvertently flushed explosively from the woodland floor and its beautifully cryptic concealment, or occasionally on their twilight ‘roding’ courtship flights around some woodland clearing.  But this was the first time I had actually watched one about its business, probing through the snow and into the soil with that long sensitive bill, feeling out the abundant earthworms hidden therein.  The first time also that I have had the opportunity to admire at leisure the beautiful barred and russet-brown plumage that affords them such superb camouflage among the leaf-litter of their more orthodox woodland homes.  Fortunately my brother was on hand to capture some shots through the living room window……

Chris' Woodcock (scaled)

Woodcock (Scolopax rusticola). Chris Gardner 2018.              Vira Natura Tours

Chris Woodcock (scaled)

Woodcock (Scolopax rusticola) with prey. Chris Gardner 2018. Vira Natura Tours



  1. Fantastic spot! There is some great information here. I’ve only seen a few European woodcocks. I think only 1 in the UK and maybe a couple in Ireland. I certainly wouldn’t expect to see them in a garden.

  2. […] of our winter wildlife, as alluded to in the previous post (and a few winters back my parents had a woodcock spend the day in their back garden, something to which the supermarket shoppers over the back fence would have been quite unaware!). […]

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