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.
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
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.
Just when I think there is nothing more to be gleaned from our Joseph Rock Rowan, a beautiful and acrobatic pair of Bullfinches turn up and expertly gather some of the last, now bletted but obviously still nutritious berries from the very tips of slender stems. As the tree is about 15 feet away from the window, the views, in yesterday’s welcome sun, were clear and bright. We have two pairs visiting at present, which I know is very lucky- a function of being near a wooded part of Sheffield centre and the fact that we plant for wildlife and feed all year round. Conditions: a welcome spell of calmer, brighter weather. Temperature: Max 10 Min 8C.
Winter Thrushes– a survey of the six members of our Thrush family took place at the beginning of this decade. The six members are: Blackbird, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Ring Ouzel, and the winter visitors from Scandinavia, Europe and Iceland, the Redwing and Fieldfare. All species have shown a decline in the last forty years We have begun to see a few of the winter visitors among our resident population of Song and Mistle Thrush, and Blackbird in the garden. All love the berries on our ‘Joseph Rock’ Rowan. One of the findings of the survey bears out the importance of all berries, including Ivy, for the Thrush family in autumn and winter: feeding on trees and bushes begins to reduce around now, as fruits and berries decline, in favour of ground feeding, where all these birds can be seen rummaging around in the topsoil and turning over leaves to expose worms, Snails and invertebrates so plant trees and shrubs with late berries, keep the Ivy growing up a wall, tree or hedge, let it flower and berry, and don’t pick up all the leaves as they make a microclimate for insects and
bugs which feed our winter birds. Conditions: Dank, drab days of rain and cloud. Temperature: Max 11 Min 7C.
Overwintering Blackcaps– Yesterday was a first for us in our Sheffield garden- not that we had overwintering Blackcap, as we do see them eating berries in the garden most winters now, but that we had this female Blackcap (only males have a black cap) feeding from our fat-filled coconut and off the scraps that fell from a Great Spotted Woodpecker feeding messily on fat. It is only since the 1960’s that this warbler, known colloquially as the ‘Northern Nightingale’ because of its beautiful,
melodious song, has been seen overwintering in the UK and it is thought that one main case is the food we now put out in so many areas of the country. This new pattern is predicted as eventually evolving it into a separate species from those that overwinter in Spain. Conditions: Thick cloud and rain showers. Temperature: Max 8 Min6C.
We have been enjoying frequent visits to our garden lately from two Jays, often harrying each other away from their favourite perches and this one was collecting peanuts from next door’s feeder and coming into our Rowan, holding a peanut in its claws and pecking away at it. This is a good time of year to see these birds, as they finish off the acorn crop and come looking for nuts, and more visible as the leaf cover disappears. A member of the Crow family, but not as gregarious, their Latin name describes them well: Garrulus ( it has a piercing and unnerving shriek of a call) Glandarius, after the Latin for Oak, this bird, as it caches hundreds of acorns in a good year, revealing a great memory in reminding them through winter, it luckily for us always missing some, which helps spread our wonderful Oak trees as they germinate. Conditions: A weekend of dull, still weather with intermittent rain. Temperature: Max 7 Min 3c.
Now it is the turn of the Mistle Thrush to feast on our Joseph Rock Rowan tree berries. As the leaves get a stronger, fiery colour the yellow berries ripen and draw in many birds. Mistle Thrushes, named after their penchant for mistletoe berries, are very fond of these Rowan berries and turn up every year. Larger than Song Thrushes, with paler, almost grey backs and bigger more ‘splodgy’ spots the Mistle Thrush is an aggressive defender of food sources like these berry bushes once they find one. Conditions: Sunny and cool. Temperature: Max 10 Min 6c.