Reed Bunting- about the size of a sparrow but longer and more slender, this lovely bird was in some numbers at Old Moor RSPB reserve today. Feeding on seeds and insects, and traditionally a wetland bird, the Reed Bunting is now spreading out into farmland, where it particularly enjoys the seed of Oilseed Rape, it can even turn up on garden feeders through winter. Like some other species, the Reed Bunting will feign injury to draw predators away from their nests. Conditions: Sunny and still Temperature: Max 7- Min 3C.
Our Bat populations have increased by 9% over the past few years, according to surveys for British Waterways, helped by increased protection and conservation measures. Cold winter’s also help, as Bats need consistently low temperatures to hibernate effectively. When they hibernate, their heart rate slows to a few beats a minute, meaning they burn less energy and survive better without seriously depleting their stored body weight. British Waterways compare our rivers and canals to supermarket aisles for insect-eating Bats. Here are a couple of our most commonly seen Bat: the small Pipistrelle. Conditions: a lovely blue-skied January day. Temperature: Max 7- Min 3C.
Mistle Thrushes have gone through disturbing declines and are now on the red (most endangered) list. We regularly see them in autumn, feeding on our berried trees and now, when food in the wild is scarce, bird-tables really helps them get through lean times and mean we get great views of these dramatic birds. Here is a drawing I did showing them compared to the Song Thrush. Mistle Thrushes are larger, with less regular, more blotchy spots on their chests than Song Thrushes, and also have greyer backs. They are slightly bigger than Blackbirds. Mistle Thrushes have a very distinctive, easy to learn call, like a football rattle (listen on the RSPB site. Conditions: Grey with drizzle. Temperature: Max 4- Min 0C.
Winter flowering flowers and shrubs unless, like Hazel catkins, pollinated by the wind, need to attract the few insects out in wintry conditions. Luckily for us, they often have a beautiful scent to draws pollinators in. Here are four lovely plants out in our garden right now, smelling and looking beautiful: Daphne Jaqueline Postill (the best Daphne I think, scenting the whole path to the house), Hamamelis Mollis (Witch Hazel), Winter Flowering Honeysuckle and Winter Iris. Picking a small posy of these also brings their scent and colours into the house in drab January. Conditions: Sun after snow, disappearing fast. Temperature: Max 4- Min 0C.
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.
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.