Background to the spangled Celandines and starry Wood Anemones of Catsfield hedgerows right now is the Dog’s Mercury, with fresh green stalks and leaves and green female and male spikes of flowers. Culpepper,the 17th century herbalist, described this innocent looking plant thus: “There is not a more fatal plant, native of our country, than this”. The foetid smell attracts midges which pollinate this highly poisonous plant which is avoided by wild animals and can kill slowly over weeks. ‘Dog’ is used to mean ‘worthless’ but I like to see its fresh backdrop of leaves in the woods and hedgerows in early spring. Conditions: Bitterly cold breeze amongst sun and cloud.
Temperatures: Max 8 Min 5C.
More days of snow are challenging the birds in our garden once again- this Magpie hopped across the ‘grass’ looking for food crumbs, while the Stock Doves got stuck in, burying their heads to find food. The Parakeets just looked as though they wondered why they didn’t still live in the tropical paradise of their ancestors. Conditions: More snow overnight- 4 or 5 inches all together. Temperature: -1C most of the time.
The decline in Kestrels in many parts of the Uk is worrying but on our recent trip to the North East they were visible in their previous numbers. Such a delight, they are not usually persecuted as they take small rats, mice and voles, which are regarded by farmers as pests. In medieval falconry they were flown by knaves as they were
regarded as lower status than Peregrines etc. They can hover in a strong winds, keeping their heads completely still, like this one by St Mary’s lighthouse. Conditions: Another dull, wet day. Temperature: Max 8 Min 5c.
This Moorhen is the first we have ever seen on our garden pond- no wonder the RSPB calls it ubiquitous, wherever there is fresh water. They are omnivores, which explains why it even found something to eat, weed mostly, in our little pond. Spending time in and out of the water, these are birds which are frequently seen standing on one leg, to conserve heat. Their population was greatly reduced in the very cold winters of the 1960’s but have largely recovered since. Look out for their mating behaviours and joint nest building in parks near you any time now. Conditions: Cloud and some sun. Temperature: Max 9 Min 2C.
Moorhen, garden pond- the frog appears to find it funny!
Moorhen on garden pond
Birds will be glad of the thaw, especially smaller ones, and the insect eaters, like Wrens and Goldcrests, which have more surface area to weight and therefore use more energy keeping warm, as do Shrews and other small mammals. Here is an example from a Collared Dove this week, of how birds keep warm by fluffing up their feathers, to trap layers of air which they warm up through their body heat. They also stand one one leg to conserve heat! Conditions: Still, grey day. Snow completely gone here now. Temperature: Max 7 Min 3C.
In freezing conditions, birds need fresh water but if the can’t get it, they will eat snow, like this Great Spotted Woodpecker I have been watching in the garden. This Mistle Thrush, during a blizzard, managed to stand ankle deep in melting ice on the pond, and sip water from a more melted spot!
Great Spotted Woodpecker eating snow
Mistle Thrush sipping from a slightly melted pond
If you can, put out water for them. Conditions: Still, grey with early snow showers. Temperature: Max 1 Min -1C.