FEBRUARY’S bird highlight was in my own garden. One of the benefits of working from home is the chance to keep an eye on the garden birds. I had just topped up the feeders in the cold weather at the start of the month. This brought in a flurry of hungry birds amongst which I noticed a different looking bird in our crab apple tree. It was obviously a warbler, which in itself is worthy of note in winter, but different from the expected Chiffchaff with dark brown plumage and a striking face pattern. To cut a long story short it was a Dusky Warbler, a very rare visitor from Asia. This is the first record for this area and, unsurprisingly, by far the rarest bird I have ever seen in the village. The only regret was that whilst I went to fetch my camera the bird disappeared and there has been no sign since. This was one of a small series of sightings of wintering Dusky Warblers around the country including birds that turned up in Cheshire and Lancashire the day after my sighting.

Talking of warblers I received a number of reports of Blackcaps visiting readers’ gardens in the snowy weather. It’s interesting to see that some central European birds have changed their migration patterns in recent years and now fly to winter in Britain instead of heading south as most Blackcaps do. It’s likely that the availability of bird food in gardens is a key driver of this change in behaviour.

One species to look out for over the coming days is White-tailed Eagle. This magnificent bird of prey has been the subject of a successful reintroduction programme in Scotland and a similar project is underway in England with birds released on the Isle of Wight last year. Because these individuals are radio tracked their movements can be traced and this showed that one pair immediately headed for North Yorkshire (who can blame them?!) and spent time around the North York Moors. A similar thing has happened this year and there were a number of sightings in this area of a wandering bird including over Thirsk, Boltby, Borrowby, near Richmond and Northallerton. With the latest sighting at the end of February it could well be still in the general area. If you see it it’s unlikely you’ll confuse this huge species, which has been aptly described as a "flying barn door", with anything else. The photo shows a White-tailed Eagle I photographed last year being chased off by a pair of crows.

Elsewhere the long staying, but rather elusive, Long-billed Dowitcher was seen again in the Scorton/Bolton-on-Swale area. Other sightings here included White-fronted Goose, Stonechat, Little Gull and up to ten Avocets.

Nosterfield recorded a drake Smew. These beautiful ducks, colloquially known as white nuns, have been distinctly scarce in recent winters so it was good to see one back on a local water even if lockdown meant few people were able to see it. Later in the month it was joined by a Red-breasted Merganser, another striking wildfowl species. Both birds were still there at the time of writing.

Looking ahead to March this is probably the single best month for seeing Whooper Swans as they move north back to their breeding grounds in Iceland. Because of the development of a series of excellent wetland reserves in this area some birds have actually changed their migration route and move up through The Vale of York instead of following their previous line along the Yorkshire coast. These areas, such as Nosterfield and Bolton-on-Swale, are the best place to see them but if you’re lucky you might pick up a passing skein anywhere in the area. Listen out for their lovely, wild "whooping" calls which give the birds their name.

March should also see the arrival of the earliest summer migrants with a good chance of Sand Martin, Wheatear, Ring Ouzel and Chiffchaff all before the month end. Based on records from recent years it’s even possible the first Swallow will also be spotted in March.

Finally, a reminder that if you are lucky enough to spot an unusual bird I would be very pleased to receive your sightings at nick.morgan@virgin.net