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Ford and Etal

Northumberland winter wildlife a special joy on cold, still nights

Other posts by  |  Kevin OHara on Google+ |  December 31, 2013 | 0 Comments
Kevin O'Hara

Kevin O’Hara

It has almost been a case of déjà vu, as the reason for my enforced absence from my column, was the same dodgy eye that had me looking like a cross between Ben Turpin and Rooster Cogburn, a couple of years ago.

Burst blood vessels, this time, brought my activities to a standstill, as I waited for them to heal and daren’t move a muscle in case they popped again. Ah the joys of getting older!

I did do a lot of watching though, mostly local as I was advised not to drive, which was again very incumbent. Still, the weather wasn’t too bad for the time of the year, sometimes cold, often wet but interspersed with good sunshine. So, donning my Roy Orbison disguise, the dogs got more than their fair share of exercise and an intimate knowledge of the local country park.

As the nights drew in and the days shortened, October slipped into November and the leaves surrendered their last tenuous hold on the last branches.

The grey ambiance descended – the one that all too often accompanies the melancholy of November and now, December! However, as I mentioned, the frequent bouts of sunshine did more to raise the spirits and allow me, being incumbent in the house, the opportunity to see so many things you just become so used to, you just miss the true intricacies of their day to day living.

The garden is full of its usual suspects at this time of the year, going about their normal daily routines, but are they as mundane as they seem? How violent a life the Robin leads, how noisy are wrens and why do coal tits suffer from OCD, just how annoying are jackdaws? And dunnocks are easily confused by mice.

Robins … the not so secret life of a garden thug! I caught a glimpse of some of their activities in previous years as they have been nesting in the garden but their autumnal activities over- lord their shy nesting activities by far. ‘Rocky’ the robin has again established his territory through bouts of autumnal singing and ticking. He can often be heard, as can many garden species at this time of the year, singing quietly within thick cover. It’s a habit I have heard more since I have had the time to just listen to the garden and woods these past months. It’s almost surreptitious in its delivery, carried out under the breath as if not to let anyone else know this is your patch. Defeats the object really of birdsong, but if the ladies are not playing ball then you may as well sing to yourself.

Of course there will always be the ‘loud mouth’ of the woods who irreverently sings at the top of his voice at all times. The wrens have quickly made use of the newly placed garden shed as the highest point in the garden to sing from and when you are in the shed, when he tunes up and starts, you quickly appreciate how loud he really is, quite astounding really for such little lungs … just like Susan Boyle, of whom I am a great fan.

Rocky, when he is not in his self-indulgent mood, positions himself right behind the feeding station and enters into various bouts of pugilism with anything that dares to try and feed; from blue tits to blackbirds he launches himself at them, even dive bombing the wood mice that live under the dustbin lid bird bath.

The tits, who all hang out together in the winter, have taken to feigning visits so one of their compadres can nip in and steal some titbits whilst he is chasing the bait bird away. Feathers, literally often fly when he catches one red-handed and he launches a vicious assault on them – particularly the dunnocks, who skulk even more so around the floor looking for scraps pretending to be mice. The great tits offer some resistance but the coal tits just seem oblivious, as they continue their automaton existence of: fly to feeder, pick out sunflower seed, fly to distant plant pot and hide seed, fly back to feeder, forgetting where last seed was, pick another sunflower seed, fly to another distant flower pot and so on and so on …. . Now I know where all the germinating sunflower plants come from in amongst my spring hyacinths!


British Robin, by David Jordan

British Robin, by David Jordan

Watching from my shed window with camera in hand to capture some of this aggression has been a chilly business, but at least the mice are amusing and nearly as aggressive as the robin, constantly chastising each other for over stepping that unknown mouse boundary. However, even these do not escape his aerial depredations of ‘Rocky’, swooping like a laser guided bomb with only their lightening quick rodent reflexes saving them from a feathered battering. Even when the ‘harpy’ like jackdaws descend, enmasse, to pillage the feeders, he resolutely holds his ground.

This resolution will of course probably be his downfall, as either the ever present threat of a raiding sparrowhawk will take him out, or quite simply the exertions of his everyday Beowulf impressions, will eventually wear him out, whatever happens, it will be fun while it lasts.

As the old year wanes and the new one dawns, I would expect a bit of the white stuff to adorn the countryside but there is always that little glimmer in the back of your mind that the shortest day has passed and the nights will soon be starting to lengthen.

There will still be plenty of time to sample some of winters’ delights though, which, with a bit of the white stuff on the ground, are all the more magical. Foxes call for mates through January and early February, making us quiver and get goose bumps, some because it’s a horrendous racket but to most, it’s our distant sub- conscious echoing the calls of our past in the wild wood, when the ravages of winter, literally brought the wolf to the door; now, of course, it’s the energy companies after your hard earned dosh. The calls of vixen yowling and the harsher dog ‘where are you?’ barks are all we have left.

I love this time of the year, and those last moments of the day and the first of the night, especially when the air is still and the sky clear.

Venus rises in the western sky the bright Christmas star, the first owl calls and blackbirds frantically call and cock pheasants scold, shapes scuttle across the path as rabbits move to evening feeding grounds, a longer shadow moves smoothly along the base of the hedge as the fox ushers forth the nightshift.

I love it just to stop, watch and listen ducks flight in on the ponds and a heron croaks when disturbed from the margins and as you move off, the grass crackles under foot as the frost starts to form. I pull my collar up and watch the dogs’ collar lights wink in the near distance as we head home as a vixen screams ‘come and find me’, but alas, it’s not SUBO calling for me.

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Category: Northumbria Wildlife

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