December 2010

Autumn is usually the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, but not this year! November has been unseasonably cold and all the old signs of a hard winter are much in evidence- things like heavy coats on horses (maybe the recession is causing a down turn in grooming?) and of course the hedgerows are full of berries. All this and we are still in autumn. Winter doesn’t officially start till just before Christmas, but with sub zero temperatures, snow and howling winds further lowering the temperature through wind chill, I am not sure global warming is all its been cracked up to be. Our allotment is now firmly put to bed for the winter, but we still have some wintering leeks and the like to keep us going. The poly tunnel is full of lettuce and salad leaves, but maybe the only things to survive will be the iceberg lettuces.

In the garden we had just started feeding the birds in mid November when the thermometer started to drop. I know a lot of experts tell us we should feed and support our local birdlife all year round but I can’t help but suspect that to do so is just as un-natural as all year feeding can do more harm than good in a rural habitat such as ours. Whatever, we have had a wonderful selection of bids coming to the feeders. We put up four types of feeder: fat-balls, niger seed, mixed seed and peanuts. As well as putting seed into a feeder I scatter some on the awn for thrushes, dunnock and robins who never seem to master hanging onto a feeder to the same degree as the tits and finches.

We were very pleased to see that a male and a juvenile great spotted woodpecker have started taking it in turns to demolish a couple of fat-balls in every two days or so. It amazes me that a bird as big as a black bird that is black and white with great splashes of red on it can disappear so effectively in the smallest of bushes. They are such handsome striking birds with great character. We have been doing very nicely on the tick list. In the second half of November we saw wrens, dunnock, house sparrows, tree-creeper, brambling (a great addition, new to our garden this year) robin, blackbird, wood pigeon, collared dove, rook, magpie, gold crest, gold, green, bull and chaffinch, coal, blue and great tit.

Bird feeders may physically nourish the local birds, but they also nourish our soul. There is nothing quite so relaxing, or as rewarding as watching truly wild animals build trust and fat at the same time! Don’t worry if your bird recognition isn’t as good as you would want it to be. The RSPB publish great guides on line with pictures, descriptions and even recordings of the bird’s various calls and songs. Have a look at their Identifier Home Page here.

Don’t forget to keep water ice free in your garden, it will attract just as many birds as the food will. We have a pond in our garden that is a real bird magnet at the moment. We have also delayed cutting down all those lovely seed heads in the herbaceous border, which is also benefitting the birds as a source of food and shelter as they travel across our little plot.

Ian Bennett

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