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.
Having recently posted a drawn Treecreeper as they seldom
come near enough in our garden to photograph, this one turned up briefly on our Rowan trunk. Treecreepers can suffer in cold winters if wet conditions are followed by freezing temperatures as tree trunks, where they forage for insects, get ice-bound, which means those in sheltered woodland fare better. Tree creepers move rapidly in spirals round a tree, and only move up the trunks, unlike Nuthatches. They move fast, which is why the photo’s aren’t that sharp! Conditions: Sunny intervals. Temperature: Max 4 Min -1C.
Great Spotted Woodpeckers are turning up on our feeders as usual but males can also be heard drumming on the tree trunks to establish their territories, which they will do until April. (Male have a red patch at the back of their head, females don’t – see photo’s). One of the success stories, their increasing numbers and spread mean you can hear them in most of the UK- we even heard one at Kelsey Park, Beckenham, at the weekend! They find the loudest drumming-posts, including telegraph poles. (Green Woodpeckers, while they excavate nesting holes in tree-trunks, do not drum). Conditions: Frosty and showery. Temperature: Max 5- Min 4C.
How do Snowdrops survive the deep frosts and snow? Unlike plants like Nasturtiums, whose cell structure completely breaks down in very cold conditions, Snowdrops, like many plants that survive or thrive in winter, have anti-freeze proteins in their cells. Yesterday, these Snowdrops ‘collapsed, laying down, covered with frost-crystals. Today, in milder conditions, they are back standing upright and glorious, thanks to their anti-freeze. Conditions: milder day with some sunny intervals. Temperature: Max 5, 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.
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.
Hawfinch– if, like me, you have never seen our rarest finch (hence the need to draw it- no photo’s) then this winter may be your best chance. Our small, native population has been boosted by 1,000’s rather than the usual 100’s of winter migrants from their main over-wintering areas of Romania and Germany, which have a bad harvest of their favoured fruits and seeds, while we have an unusually high harvest this year. Shy birds, they particularly favour Hornbeam and Yew but you may even see them in your garden. Conditions: Forecast snow beginning to fall- I’ve just put some water out for the birds- crucial during icy spells. Temperature: Max 1 Min -2C.