Wildlife in winter

Winter wildlife in this country, in the town or country can be just as interesting as in the warmer seasons.

While winter is a time of hibernation for many species, it’s also the mating season for others. Vocal communication is vital for many species trying to attract a mate.

A sound typical of the season – and one that sends shivers up the spine – is that of foxes ‘screaming’ in the night. These calls let foxes know each others whereabouts, helping them to find a mate or deter intruding competition. Urban foxes can be seen and heard in most towns and cities and their screams can be haunting and quite frightening if you don’t know what they are!

Tawny owls pair up in winter and the classic “Twit – twoo” sound is actually a combination of calls from the courting male and female.

Barn owls suffer particularly badly in the winter as it can be especially hard for them when it snows and the small mammals they feed on become even harder to find.

They don’t have waterproofing in their feathers and so don’t fly in the rain. Prolonged rainfall can be deadly to a hungry barn owl. My Hen Pal, Julia, found a bedraggled young barn owl in her garden a few years ago and managed to get it to an owl sanctuary as you can see from the photos.

One of the most amazing wildlife sights I’ve ever seen is a group of starlings swooping and swirling in the air as if they are choreographed – interestingly the name for a large group of these birds is a ‘murmuration’! You are more likely to see them this time of year as the birds flock together through winter for warmth, protection and increased foraging success. Keep your eyes peeled – I saw a murmuration just before dusk over some farmland on the edge of Dartmoor, but it’s just as likely over a city – a truly magical sight.

And what of our dear little garden birds? Supplementary feeding is a tricky issue as many people worry about animals becoming dependent on handouts. However, the RSPB (who surely know what they are talking about!) advises feeding your garden birds through the winter months as they will be struggling to find food.

Be sure to provide water too as this is almost as important as food through winter. Birds and mammals will appreciate your efforts as their usual sources freeze over. 

Happy winter wildlife watching!

 

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Feeding our feathered friends in winter

The arrival of ‘proper’ winter weather has seen the usual flurry of wild bird activity in our garden. I see robins fluffed up like pompoms and black birds looking huge – thank goodness they have such great insulation in their feathers. But it’s important we look after our garden birds throughout the winter months, especially now as so many of them are under threat.

Garden birds need extra nourishment to keep them warm, just as we do and, as I know you are all so keen on cooking and ‘making’, I thought you’d love to have a go at making your own winter bird feeders!

All you need is vegetable suet, or lard, bird seed mix and empty yogurt pots.

Mix one part suet to two parts seed, transfer to a saucepan and gently heat until the fat melts.

Next, make a small hole in the bottom of each pot and thread some twine through to tie the feeder to a tree branch. Pour the mixture into the pots – do this on a tray or baking sheet so if any fat leaks through the hole it won’t damage anything. Set overnight in the fridge, then simply remove the pot and hang up outside.

Don’t forget their water in winter. I keep a stock of old plastic post and cartons from packaging that I fill with water and weight down with a stone to ensure they always have fresh unfrozen water.

Finally, hygiene is very important – when a large number of birds are attracted into an area to feed, the danger of disease increases. Prevention is always better than a cure, and is the best thing you can do to help the birds.

The RSPB has lots of useful information about bird feeding and advice on how to keep everything clean. Click here to find out what they suggest

http://www.rspb.org.uk/advice/helpingbirds/feeding/hygiene.aspx

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Elegant Birdboxes!

We feed our birds with very basic lumps of fat and seedballs, and they build nests under the thatch and in the ivy that covers the house. But I can still dream of having pretty bird boxes like these but I’m not sure a very rural Devon bird would choose ‘new’, ‘improved’ housing over the eaves with which they are so familiar and comfortable!

But that aside, this is one of my favourite cards that shows the beautiful Jane Shasky stamps and it demonstrates yet again what beautiful effects you can get when colouring with Promarkers.

The basic scalloped ivory card is layered with some pale blue card and a strip of calligraphy backing paper from the Jane Shasky CD. The main image isn’t layered as it appears, it is edged with the chisel tip of a Promarker, as is the cream layer beneath it. This is a fabulous way of getting the layered effect without the expense of extra card.

The birdbox has been coloured using a Blush Promarker but there are lots of other beige/pale wood colours you could use – caramel for example. When it comes to the flowers, stay really pale or they will overwhelm the entire card – here they are soft and match the blue card really well.

One final note – the whole of the stamped image has been surrounded with a very pale grey – this brings the whole coloured image together and looks really effective I think. Finish off with some self-adhesive pearls and the ‘Thank You’ sentiment has been edged with the blue Promarker too.

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Hedgehogs, frogs and (non) barking dogs!

I think we’d all agree that, in weather terms, it’s been a bit of an odd year. This in turn has made a big impact on the flora and fauna in our gardens.

I’d just been listening to a friend bemoaning her lack of peas and broad beans this year – almost all eaten by Jays, something she had never witnessed before – and I suddenly thought (as you do!) – hedgehogs!

Hedgehogs have always been regular visitors in our garden – I’d spot them toddling across the lawn just at it turned dimpsy, as we say in Devon – or dusk to the rest of you.  But this year I haven’t seen any.

Predictably, Wellington, our slightly mad cocker spaniel, would always enjoy a good bark at any passing hedgehog, but not this year. And that seems very strange as we’ve had so many slugs and snails which hedgehogs adore.

And so, I started thinking about all the other things that have been strange in 2012…

I haven’t noticed many frogs or toads. These usually make their way into the garden via the stream. Despite the months of rain from April onwards, and the generous supply of slugs to feed on I haven’t seen a single one. Perhaps the hedgehogs and frogs have more food than they know what to do with closer to home, so haven’t needed to look further afield. Have others gardeners among you noticed this, or is it just me?

On the other hand, we seem to be inundated with woodpigeons, squirrels and magpies all of which are hugely destructive in different ways. Jays being members of the crow family, as are magpies, have been much more prevalent probably accounting for my friend’s vegetable losses.

If you feel like helping out some of our smaller garden inhabitants, you could try building piles of sticks and leaves at the back of borders for them to use for winter shelter. Nothing complex, just welcoming homes made from natural materials, something a hedgehog would find very cosy.

And, finally, as Halloween and Guy Fawkes’ Night loom, if you are having a bonfire do please restack the heap on the day of the bonfire on a fresh site to ensure no wildlife has crawled in and taken up residence.

 

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Don’t be too tidy… and help wildlife!

I really don’t want to admit it, but Autumn is here. It’s September and the days are getting noticeably shorter.

Even for those animals and creatures that don’t hibernate over the winter months autumn time is very much a time to stock up on supplies. You’ll see more birds gorging on autumn berries in the garden and fattening themselves up on whatever they can.

If I do any digging at the moment I find myself closely watched by a beady eyed but very tatty little bird… it’s a young robin. It still has the pretty gold speckling of youth and patchy bits of red breast just starting to show. It pounces on every worm and I watched it gobble up two enormous worms the other day. It had a third lined up, but kept pecking at it half-heartedly, I really think it was completely full, but couldn’t bear to leave it! He eventually gobbled that one down as well – a very full tummy!

They are such lovely little birds, but robins are renowned for their aggressive territorial nature. I hadn’t realised until I looked it up the other day that the juveniles don’t develop their red breast until they are mature because otherwise their parents would attack them and drive them away just as they do other robins!

If you want to encourage wildlife in your garden don’t be too tidy! Late butterflies will be tempted by fruit that’s fallen from trees in the garden and you may get more of an opportunity to see hedgehogs as they look for food to stock up on their reserves in preparation for hibernation.

There are still seeds to be found on the likes of sunflowers and thistles, so by allowing this kind of vegetation to die off it provides more food and shelter, for birds in particular as well as other wildlife.

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