|Pink Punk-Rocker Female Hazel Catkins are out on the bough now|
|Male and female hazel catkins together|
February has settled in with iron. It is freezing here at present. The temperature may say three degrees but I think someone's forgotten to tell the air. It's flowing straight down from the North East and it feels colder than it has in ages. It is Proper Winter; I've been smelling snow on the air since last night and this evening, while walking the hounds through the fields around the time of the gloaming, it came; a flew flakes floating down out of the clouds, speckling the air around us.
The birds are flocking to the garden at the moment, making sensible use of the energy-giving fat sources they know are always available here. Keeping up with demand has been a full time job these past few days. They're getting through a suet-filled coconut half a day, as well as peanuts, fat balls and seeds. Whenever I look outside there are woodpeckers, great tits, blue tits, robins, dunnocks, blackbirds, collared doves, chaffinches, long tailed tits, pigeons, coal tits, nuthatches, sparrows, goldfinches, a marsh tit, a song thrush and a moorhen all clustered round the feeders hungrily eating up whatever they can get their beaks on. The lawn heaves as if it is a feathered thing.
This afternoon I discovered a little Dunnock lying stunned and disoriented on the patio beside the greenhouse. Pop was keen to investigate closely but I managed to persuade her it was better to let the little feathered friend be and give it time to gather its senses, which it did, eventually flying off into the hedge. I was glad. I am very much concerned for them all in this cold snap and losing your life after an altercation with a greenhouse, having survived December and January, seems most unfair.
There are siskin about this week, in great numbers. I hear them all whistling and popping in the trees that line the lake near the house, although we rarely see them. Occasionally a Brave Male will venture into the garden and everyone else is very accommodating and shares the feeders with him, eyeing the colourful speckled green plumage enviously (apart from the goldfinches, obviously- after all, if you've got red and yellow on you what's a bit of lemony-green?).
We had a Tree Creeper pay us a visit this week- I saw him crawling up the trunk of the willow as I lay in bed looking out of the window at the cold, grey sky summoning the courage to get up. I tried to point him out to M, but of course they are so perfectly blended with tree trunks that he couldn't see the little one at all. It's only the second time I've seen one in the garden so I was thrilled.
When I did get up, it was to see the Heron fishing on the edge of the lake. He is huge and very mistrustful of people. He will just about tolerate me, as long as I don't make a noise or move, but anyone else comes near and he's off, great wings open to the air and feet trailing behind him. I see him most days - he is my new avian love :o)
Further out, beyond the boundaries of the garden into The Wild that surrounds the house, heard but not seen, are greenfinches, bullfinches, green woodpeckers, a little grebe, a kingfisher and a pair of stock doves. The stock doves have a kind of revving purr, like an engine getting going. They've been at it for a while now, sorting out their territory. The Kingfisher, (who once sat beside one of our Robins on the garden fence!) whistles. The bullfinches utter soft, single 'boos' year round, and the greenfinches make a trilling sound, like rolling your r's with your tongue. I hear far fewer of them and I worry that their numbers are down. The green woody yaffles as he flies, predicting rain, and the little grebe calls only once Spring has really got going. He doesn't let up for the summer then but falls silent again as the light fades from the year.
Out in the fields the calls are different still: the cackling of huge flocks of fieldfare (who are sensibly staying put in Hampshire while their Scandinavian homelands are deep in colder winters than we get here) greet me whenever I venture out into the land. A few redwing are mixed in with them but they are almost always silent, distinguishable at a distance by the fetching Adam And The Ants eye stripe they wear, as opposed to the creamy grey tail base of the fieldfares. Starlings still cling together in sizeable flocks, whistling and sliding up and down the scales in very un-birdlike ways. Rooks gather, settling in the tops of winter roosts like ragged black hankies, cawing as we pass beneath them, the odd jackdaw or three thrown in beside them for good measure. The Ravens come in from the fields to cross over the house most days, groinking. There is something ancient and wonderful about a Raven's call. I find I am smiling and my heart surges whenever I hear it. They love to play in the sky, as if for the pure joy of being able to. You can almost hear them sigh with pleasure as they stretch wings and twist and turn and tumble effortlessly through the air.
I watched one this week doing just that, turning somersaults with such abandon that you find yourself rushing forward with arms outstretched and your breath caught in your throat, anxious to catch him, certain he will fall out of the sky, so little attention does he seem to be paying to the way the land is rushing up to meet him. But of course, he knows exactly what he's doing. A Raven would no more fall out of the sky while turning somersaults than a flying bat would get caught up in your hair.
Possibly my favourite call of winter is the 'chiswick-chiswick' of the Wagtails. Greys and Pieds are still out in the fields and occasionally I get them at home too. Once you've heard the call it's very easy to distinguish so go out and have a listen for them if you're UK based. They too are guaranteed to make you smile. Such dear little birds.
My bird friends do not withdraw and fall silent with the darkness; on clear, frosty, moonlit nights such as the one's that's brewing outside now, the Tawny Owls wake and call to one another. The females' 'kee-wick' answered by the familiar 'hoo. Hoo, hoo, hoo, hooooo' of the male. Once or twice they have been kind enough to answer me as I hung out of the bedroom window calling to them. Once, I got the shock of my life when one floated on silent wings out of the night and landed on the fence a few feet away. I nearly fell out of the window when he replied. M of course found the whole thing very funny. In the morning there was an owl pellet left for me by the gate, the tiny bones of voles twisted through it a network of shards of black glass.
Are you feeding the birds where you are? Every little helps :o)
Have a good weekend all,