22nd January 2020

Messy Finches- there’s no getting away Finches are messy eaters, throwing seeds they aren’t interested in out from the feeders, and rapidly ‘shelling’ the outer cases of hard seeds, spilling them anywhere, in order to get to the nutritious, soft kernels. (See both habits in the photos). However all four regular species- Green-, Gold-, Bull-, and Chaffinch, and occasional winter Brambling,  we get are well worth it for the beauty and fascination of watching them. I rigged up a special feeder arrangement by the window, which has a large plant-container saucer, hole drilled through the

Goldfinch scattering unwanted seed

Bullfinch about to shell a desirable seed

There go the unwanted bits of seed-case

Feeder contraption to catch the rejected seed

middle, lodged on the pole, and that catches most of the discarded seeds. This saves them landing on the ground, which may attract rats, and means Robins etc can land on the saucer and feed on the bits. Conditions: Grey and still. Temperature: Max 11 Min 4C.

9th January 2020

I’ve just been down the garden to prune the fruit trees, an essential job at this time of year, and spotted our first tot of native Primroses, showing this to have been a mild winter. One of my favourite flowers, I am not alone. They were also the favourite flowers of our Victorian Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli and he received a posie from Queen Victoria each year. Every year, on April 19th, the date of his death, bunches are still laid at his grave at Westminster Abbey. We used to post shoe-boxes of them to our Aunts in London, who missed being back in Sussex walking the lanes. Now, picking not sanctioned for decades, they are reappearing in good quantities in those same lanes. Conditions: Mild, cloud and sun. Temperature: Max 8 Min 2C.

2nd January 2020

Oaks in winter- mum loved the ‘black lace’ of our Sussex Wealden Oaks in winter but it is fascinating to think how they prepare for and survive our cold, dark months. Having gathered nutrients from the breakdown of their leaves in autumn, and shed those leaves, (not triggered by cold but by a chemical pigment which detects the lowering

Oak bark in winter

Catsfield Oaks in winter

Catsfield Oaks in winter- Broomham Lane

Catsfield (Sussex) Oaks in winter

of infra-red light levels), they still have to survive freezing temperatures which could destroy their trunks and branches. The bark acts as a blanket, while the Oak withdraws fluid from the trunk, thus dehydrating itself and leaving only highly concentrated sugars which act as an anti-freeze. It stores much of its nutrients in its roots, which also draw in minerals from the miles of mycorrhizal  filaments of fungi in the soil. The Oak slows its use of energy right down until light levels increase, and it can restore itself ready for spring. Conditions: Very grey buy welcome dry days in Sussex. Temperature: Max 10 Min 7C.

30th December 2019

A very heavy frost like the one this morning really sorts out the freeze-tolerant plants from the ones that will be destroyed by the formation of ice-crystals on both their outer surfaces and in their internal cell-structure. The simplest part of this to understand (for me anyway!) is the way some plants create a sort of ‘anti-freeze’ by accumulating sucrose and other solutes in their cells, which actively lower the freezing point of water, a bit like salt does when spread on our roads. They can also adjust their proteins and lipids with similar effect, while those that are destroyed by frost will be broken down into humus and other nutrients that enrich the soil. One way of helping some plants in our gardens survive frost, especially Camellias which flower early and whose beautiful flowers can be damaged by frost, is to plant them where the early sun will not fall on the plants  and cause too rapid thawing. Conditions: Heavy frost, and unseasonably warm sun. Temperature: Max 11 Min 4C.

19th December 2019

Great Tits: as we approach the shortest day, and birds of all kinds have less time to forage, the desperate scramble for food becomes more crucial to their surviving cold spells of weather. Great Tits, our largest species of the Tit family, rely on seeds through these conditions. While most Great Tits stay roughly in their areas of birth, some do travel from higher to lower ground but they are spread through the UK so wherever you live, if you can put seeds and fat out it will help them and other small birds that lose more heat per body weight than larger birds. In harsh conditions Great Tits can need to eat up to 44% of their body weight in a day in sunflower and other seeds. (Who does such research?! )

Great Tit feeding on peanuts, rich in energy

Conditions. Cloudy and with rain on its way. Temperature: Max 12 Min 7 c.

4th December 2019

Robins in winter– Robins are one of a few birds that sing throughout winter in the uk. This is because they are particularly active in defending a territory year round but scientists in Bristol believe that us feeding Robins through the winter helps. Birds have a complex mechanism to manage their fat reserves, and Robins will only sing through the winter if they are well fed enough. They appear to be able to assess when they have enough energy to sing in the day, so a ready supply of food, and warmer nights means they are more likely to be heard defending their territory by their beautiful song

Robin in winter


Robin singing in winter

. Another reason to feed our birds. Conditions: A spell of bright, sunny weather. Temperature: Max 6 Min 3C.

28th November 2019

Mallard numbers are increasing and you can see them on almost any stretch of water, in fact they may be becoming a bit too dominant but nevertheless, they are worth watching. I have covered a few birds washing habits this year and non is more enthusiastic in its dunking style than the Mallard. Also, watch out for them ‘asleep’. They can sleep with one eye open, meaning one brain hemisphere is alert while the other sleeps. Not a bad adaptive behaviour! Conditions: More grey, damp days. Temperature: Max 9 Min 2C.

Mallard washing on the Don, Sheffield

Mallard washing, Sheffield Centre

Male Mallard, drying out on the Don

Female Mallard washing