February 2011

Happy New Year! Our New Year started well as far as Mother Nature was concerned. At the beginning of the month I got to re stack my older (oven ready) logs to make space for some new ones. Strict log rotation is called for to allow logs to age well before they contribute their all for our comfort, so the log stack got turned over. We supply bug boxes for all sorts of creepy crawlies to over winter around our garden, but the log stack is far and away their favourite place. We have often brought logs in and missed a sleep wasp pr hornet that was sleeping away the winter months when suddenly- spring appears, as if by magic and a flurry of magnolia walls before meeting a crushed end under a swat of newspaper. I really have no qualms about killing wasps et al!

Back to the log stack: so, apart from wasps, we can also follow quite a deep and complex food chain, with larvae and wood lice dining out on cellulose but in turn being snapped up by ants and beetles in mind boggling array. Slugs hoover up around the base of the food chain as well, which all funnels up to dormice, field mice and voles with first names I have never sorted out. At the base of the stack there is an air channel that fills with dried leaves and which is open at the ends. This fills up (so it seems) with toads, lizards, and even the occasional slow worm although they spend most of their time under the compost bins right next door to the logs. Maybe we have so many under there that they are having an overspill crisis- I hope so.

Given the long cold winter we are “enjoying”, it is hardly surprising that there is little to see by way of wildflowers out there. I was worrying that my 36-month record of campion spotting was about to be broken. I have seen pink campion in the hedgerows at least every month for the last three years and actually for the time it took me to realise how stubborn this little gem actually is. But although I had seen it in early December, I was only able to spot it right at the end of this month and had begun to give up hope.

Anyway, there it was on Monday morning, just showing new flowers and all the hope and perseverance of spring. We have some snowdrops out and the wild (naturalised) ones down on Porthbean beach are well started. You can tell how hard the winter has been by the number of winter migrants that have ventured this far south and west. Starlings from Russia and Scandinavia have been joined by much larger than normal numbers of fieldfares, wheatears, redwings and even saw-billed ducks like merganser and red-breasted goosander. (Saw-bills, as their name suggests have teeth like notches along their beaks (bills) for gripping and eating fish that they surface dive for).

Last week I was walking home along one of our lovely greenways when a bird that was instantly recognizable as a kestrel flew up from the ground a short way ahead and flew off from me. What I could not work out was what it was carrying and what it eventually had to drop to make good its escape from me. I carried on along the bath and Nolly was quick to find what had been dropped- it was a well on the way to being dismembered fieldfare! A fieldfare is quite a big bird, easily as massive as a kestrel, so this hunter was certainly feeling proud of himself. I left the bounty alone and walked on to the next bend. After a few minutes wait the kestrel came back and eagerly started ripping its meal apart!

One other highlight that you should try listening out for over the next few weeks are the woodpeckers. Even in the depths of winter they have started drumming to proclaim their territorial boundaries and to give the good news to any female that might be out a-wooing! Greater spotted woodpeckers are quite common and are most often the ones you will hear drumming, but I have also heard a couple of yaffles in the margins of woods around and about. They do drum, but it is their call (which gives the green woodpecker its local name in the southwest) that you will hear from now all through the summer.

Ian Bennett

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