There’ll be a short break in transmission while I travel down for a momentous family day in Catsfield- mum’s 90th birthday! I’ll leave with a few recent photos and be back to blogging soon. Conditions: Wet and grey, though milder than the last couple of days. Temperature: Max 7- Min 7 C.
Bullfinches were drawn into the garden again today by the frosty weather. Most of the ones coming in winter will be native birds, that don’t stray more than a few kilometres from their breeding grounds, but some come in, as the weather worsens, from further north, including Scandinavia. These migrants have a deeper, more powerful call than the thinner piping call of native Bullfinches, so you might be able to tell them apart from that. They tend to prefer feeding on seeds and suet-based foods in hanging feeders. The ability
of Bullfinches to digest cellulose from energy-rich buds might be frustrating for gardeners and farmers but it saves many of their lives when seeds run out in the wild, during winter. Favourite buds seem to be from fruit-bearing wild and garden bushes and trees- Blackthorn, Crab Apples, Hawthorn, Plum and Pear especially. I personally think their presence outweighs what we lose in buds later in winter, and in early spring. Conditions: A beautiful crisp, frosty morning with light cloud and blue sky. Temperature: Max 5- Min 3 C.
Holly is a wonderful, slow-growing evergreen tree that could help wildlife in our gardens in several ways. The density and prickliness of the foliage provides shelter for many nesting birds including Thrushes, Blackbirds, Dunnock, Finches and Goldcrests . Bees and Bumblebees love the nectar and pollen from the tiny flowers and the caterpillars of the Holly Blue Butterfly feed on the flowers and buds in spring (the summer brood feeds on Ivy). Birds of the Thrush family especially love their berries in winter. The deep leaf-litter that tends to form under Holly Trees is also great for hibernating small mammals and
toads. Shade-tolerant, Holly bushes are either male or female, and need the other form nearby, though not necessarily in the same garden, to be pollinated and produce berries. The Holly has long been held as powerful in traditional beliefs, including the practice for centuries of planting one near the back door as protection from Witchcraft and Lightening! The wood was used in wet weather, as it’s fierce way of burning means it lights well even when wet. Conditions: A beautiful dawn was followed by a bright, cool, dry day. Temperature: Max 8, Min 2 C
I watched two female Great Spotted Woodpeckers chasing each other out of the trees and off the feeders in the garden the other day and since then, only one has visited, or at least only one at a time. I wondered if it was an adult chasing a young female but can find no details about this behaviour and in the past, as can be seen, we have had two males feeding through winter without dispute- territorial battles are usually confined to males in
spring. Anyway, it made for some fascinating viewing- they were much more intent on aggression towards each other than feeding and between our two gardens there are plenty of feeders to choose from! Conditions: Dry, still day with a little brightness, especially towards mid-afternoon. Temperature: Going down at present- Max 9- Min 3C.
Great Tits are thought to be one of the quickest birds to find new food-sources, and their over-winter survival rates are higher (despite the density of the cat population) in suburban areas than in woodlands, though their breeding is more successful in woods than gardens. Their diet shifts at the time of year from invertebrates to seeds and fruit. In a good year of Beech seeds (‘mast’) , they will stay longer in beech woodlands, in flocks, feeding on the fallen mast on the ground but in a poor year, or as supplies run out, they come into gardens more and more. In gardens the average number in mixed
flocks is 3, which is the number we keep getting, despite having 23 Blue Tits in a mixed flock here the other day! Apart from moving from uplands in severe winters, the resident population doesn’t move far. East coasts populations are swelled by migrants from across the North Sea. Conditions: A little brighter skies today following heavy rain through the night. Temperature: Max 14- Min 8C
Sadly, yesterday I found this dead Goldcrest in the garden. These, our tiniest birds are coming to gardens more now we’re getting to winter. Over half a million pairs breed here but the numbers go up to 3-5 million with an influx of migrants fleeing even bleaker weather in Scandinavia- one has been found that was ringed as far away as Russia. They make landfall on the east coast, feed up and rest, and then spread out over the country. . In the past, people simply didn’t believe such a tiny bird (about 5-6 grams, the weight of a ten pence piece) could travel independently across the North Sea so it was called the ‘Woodcock Pilot’, as it was thought to hitch a ride in the feathers of
migrating Woodcock! It felt even lighter than I imagined- the weight of eggs laid by a female in one brood outweighs the normal weight of its body. I also hadn’t realise how bright orange the inside of its beak is (it has faded a little since it died but you can still see it in the photo). Its thin beak is ideal for picking small insects out of pine-needles and crevices. Their sweet song is so high-pitched many older people can’t register the sound. They do have high mortality rates, like most small birds, and this one looked as though it has a disease, but keep looking- they are about. Sian has just seen one in her garden. Conditions: A cooler, cloudy day, with a little breeze and rain moving in in the afternoon. Temperature: Max 8- Min 7C.
More about Yew Trees- some individual trees are thought to be the oldest living plants in Northern Europe. At least 500 churchyards in England are thought to have Yew Trees that pre-date their Church. From very early times Yews were seen as symbols of immortality, and have many rituals and powers associated with them. Yew branches were carried on Palm Sunday and at funerals. They were also thought to be planted on the graves of plague victims, to purify and protect the dead. The wood of Yew is very hard and beautifully marked. It is used by woodworkers to make bowls and many pieces of furniture, and its qualities have been prized by many cultures- a Yew spearhead was unearthed in Clacton, dating back 450,000 years. Longbows were made of Yew. Typical of old Yews, the photo’s (courtesy of Lynn) are from a great Yew in the churchyard next to the village I was born in- Crowhurst, Sussex. In 1680 this tree was measured by one John Aubrey- the girth was 33 feet at the base and 27 feet four feet up. It is thought to be at least 1300 years old. Conditions: Occasional bright spells in a cloudy, dry day. Temperature: Max 10- Min 7C.