Winter brings in many birds- 25 species in the garden this week, including the Stock Dove, in from surrounding pastures of Sheffield to feed on seeds under feeders. A little smaller than Wood Pigeons, and lacking their white neck and wing bars, this pigeon is a pest on farmland but East Anglian Warreners (‘farmers’ of wild rabbits) used to take advantage of their habit of nesting in Rabbit holes. They would put sticks across the entrance to warrens so adults could still feed the young, and then,
fattened up, they would take the young for the pot. Their Finnish name is wonderful: Uuttukyyhky: spell check doesn’t even bother! Conditions: The dark, dull days continue. Temperature: Max 6- Min 3C.
It is always such a treat to see our smallest native bird in the garden and today the Goldcrest, an insect-eater and therefore a bird which struggles to survive harsh winters, was showing a newer behaviour. It was eating some of the fat left out on bird feeders by us and our neighbours. The more they can eat fat from bird feeders, to supplement scarce insects the more, I imagine, these tiny, fragile birds have a chance of getting through winters- and the more chance we have of really close, clear views rather than the usual snatched views as they flit among branches rapidly gathering their tiny prey. Conditions: Cloudy, with some rain. Temperature: Max 7- Min 4C.
Goldcrest- when its crest isn’t visible it appears as an olive-green, pale little mouse-like bird
Goldcrest- the bolt-head visible gives an idea of the Goldcrest’s size
Recent research published in Animal Conservation shows that the Higher Level Stewardship Scheme, which requires farmer’s to grow more wild flowers and develop nesting sites, can quickly bring about a recovery in bird species like Starlings, House Sparrows and Skylark. However, the scheme would have to be rolled out over much larger areas to really help the devastating loss- 50% drop in farmland birds since 1970. So far, Gove is promising measures to do this…watch this space! Conditions: Rain, and winds over 40 mph, but not as devastating as in some areas. Temperature: Max 8- Min 5C.
Starling in winter
Bringing Holly into the house in winter dates back beyond written records. At summer solstice, the Holly, King of the winter trees, was believed to win the fight with the Oak, King of the summer, and mummers, and wassailers took the Holly with them to signify its power. Gawain and the Green Knight reflects this battle. While Holly stems were used in the 18th Century in their hundreds of thousands, to make whips for riding, and Holly branches were nutritious food for livestock in winter, to cut a Holly tree down completely rather than merely coppicing it, was regarded as very unlucky. They were planted beside houses, as Holly was thought to protect against malevolent faeries, and in the house, to mediate between fairy and human. The Duke of Argyll, in the18th century, diverted the course of a road to avoid cutting an old Holly. I
n hedgerows, the highways of witches, they were left to impede witches in their travels. Conditions: Dull and drizzly. Temperature: Max 10- Min 9C.
Yesterday, the Winter Solstice, is officially our shortest day, on average in the UK lasting 7 hours, 49 minutes 41 seconds! However the shortest day varies throughout the UK and not just by latitude. And it keeps getting darker in the mornings until early in the New Year, while our earliest sunset was about a week ago. Nor does daylight increase at an even rate through until the longest day, Summer Solstice, on 21st June. Daylight begins getting longer very slowly and it is all immensely complicated! Also, only about 4 solar days a year last 24 hours, and none in December– but our watches would be in chaos if we didn’t assume our days were 24 hours long. Here’s a sunrise and sunset, to ease our aching brains! Temperature : Max 10- Min 9C.
Winter sunrise at Boulmer, Northumberland
Winter sunset, Sheffield
Kittiwakes, the beautiful gull named after the haunting sound of its call, are our most numerous breeding gulls but their decline is shocking: the 2014 survey puts populations at 28% of their numbers in 1986 and this year’s figures are worse. This medium-sized gull, with black legs, yellow bill and wings described as looking as though they have been ‘dipped in ink’ spends nearly half its year out at sea but nests on sea-cliffs and recently, as in Newcastle-Gateshead, on buildings and bridges that resemble cliffs. Like Puffins, also in decline, it feeds on shoals of sand eels and small fish, particularly over-fished and reducing off
our Eastern coasts. Conditions: Clear and sunny. Temperature: Max 6- Min 1C.