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.
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!
If you can, put out water for them. Conditions: Still, grey with early snow showers. Temperature: Max 1 Min -1C.
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.
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.