Now most leaves have dropped, and the weather is getting colder, the Goldcrest reappears, or at least gets more visible, in our garden. The UK’s smallest bird, weighing the same as a 20 pence piece, this insect-eater will struggle to find enough food in daylight hours for the next few months, but that means it will sometimes come to a birdtable for fat, or search your plants for tiny insects, so keep your eyes peeled- it is the easiest time to spot them. Conditions: Cloudy with some rain. Temperature: Max 13- Min 11C.
Hollow Lanes (Sunken Lanes) are great local ecosystems and this is a personal favourite. I was walking Freckley Hollow in Catsfield, Sussex recently, marvelling at the rich habitat in this shady Hollow. The ancient lanes are created over hundreds of years of use by people and horse-drawn vehicles, and sometimes the erosion is increased by water-flow. Freckley Hollow, (Freckley may come from the dappled light that sifts through this half-mile hollow lane), a track in the midst of previous iron-working, brick-making and heavy farming use follows ancient boundaries and would have been progressively eroded until its surface was tarmaced. Conditions: Sunny spells, mild. Temperature: Max 10- Min 9C.
eroded until roads were tarmaced.
As colder times rapidly reduce the availability of insects and invertebrates for food, many birds turn to seeds, nuts and berries to stay alive. Many plants have developed a strong interdependence with birds. Juniper seeds, an endangered wild plant in the UK, actually germinate better after passing through a bird’s gut. Jays gather and hide as many as 5,000 acorns a year per bird, to retrieve later when food s scarce. They can carry 9 in their crop in one sortie! The fact that they do not retrieve them all means Oak trees are able to germinate away from the parent Oak. Conditions: low cloud and drizzle down south. Temperature: Max 10, Min 6C
Robins are one of our few birds that sing virtually all year round, ceasing only for a while in late summer, when they are moulting and have compromised ability to fly. Then they are vulnerable, tending to hide most of the day. They sing all year to guard and hold their territories. The song is thinner and reedier in winter, but still beautiful. One has been singing from dawn till dusk from a singing post in a tree planted deliberately near our window, flying off to feed and to chase other Robins, but returning to proclaim its territory. It goes very well with the fiery red leaves of our Rowan Joseph Rock. Conditions: Sunny and cool. Temperature: Max 10- Min 8C.
With October 2017 having temperatures on average 2 degrees above the norm, it is not surprising that the usual ‘second flush’ in autumn, of wild and garden flowers, was unusually rich this year. Here are Marsh Marigolds, Greater Knapweed and Tansy flowering well on a late October North Yorkshire walk. Conditions: Cloud and sunny intervals. Temperature: Max 11- Min 8C.
The pair of Ring-necked (or Rose-ringed) Parakeets were back in the garden today, looking very elegant in the low sunlight- and unusually quiet. These birds, natives of West Africa and Lowland India, escaped or were released from captivity in the 1970’s and mostly colonise the south east, but we have had them for a couple of years in our Sheffield garden. The RSPB don’t support a cull yet, until proper research has been done on their impact on native species. It is the ear-piercing screeching that is the biggest problem her so far! Conditions: Sunny intervals. Temperature: Max 10- Min 7C.
My first Redwing sighting in the garden this year, shows these small, beautiful winter migrants from the Thrush family must be arriving from Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, in numbers. Named from the smudge of rusty-red feathers beside the wings, they travel in small flocks. You can see this one calling to others nearby, in one photo- note its yellow tongue. Look out in hedgerows, supermarket carparks and anywhere where berries survive, and you may see Redwing, sometimes in mixed flocks with Fieldfare and native Thrushes. Conditions: After a glorious, sunny day, a windy, cloudy one, like much of the year which has seen very mixed weather. Temperature: Max 14- Min 8C.