Saturday, 9 February 2019

Country Matters with the Hodge February 2019: Nature in a Rush

Desperately hungry water birds in winter 2010
Country Matters
By The Hodge
‘A duck will not lay until it has tasted Lide [March] water.’

Old proverb


Whilst we, with our broadcast weather forecasts and constant reminders about global warming and doomsday weather scenarios, know full well that there is a measure of winter still to come, the wildlife is busy readying itself for spring and the season of renewal. The fact that new life will emerge soon whatever the weather, makes a necessity of such preparations.

Whether it’s the fox, badger, rabbit or deer; the birds in the bushes or the frogs and toads in the ponds, soon it will be the time for giving birth and nature knows it. I even saw a small rookery being constructed earlier in January – optimism of the highest order, as were the new nests. A woodpecker was busy drilling away at a likely tree trunk as I walked past last week. The ducks on the water will soon start pairing up again, the ducks being ardently pursued by frustrated drakes where the latter exceed the former.

But February can be the cruellest of months albeit the shortest. Hibernating species should still have their heads down although on warm sunny days some may emerge before returning to their lairs.

We won’t see much in the way of new leaves yet and the snowdrops have been out for a while but nature seems to be in a rush nowadays so don’t be surprised to see daffodils in full bloom in the next few weeks. The little yellow aconites are budding up nicely as I write and will soon be decorating the wooded areas and cheering us all up. Many trees are already showing their catkins and pussy willow flowers.

If you can, help the songbirds by putting out appropriate food and keeping the feeders and area clean. A source of water is essential too, again kept clean and defrosted if possible. Different species eat different things and you cannot be expected to cater for everything but some observation of what types of birds are visiting your garden will help to determine your purchases. Titmice, finches, nuthatches and woodpeckers will come for peanuts. Sparrows, dunnocks, starlings, robins, blackcaps, blackbirds and others will want seeds and grains. Finches, doves, pigeons etc. will enjoy sunflower hearts. Many species appreciate the fat balls but beware the ones wrapped in nylon mesh as this can trap and kill small birds – a distressing sight for any bird lover. And a reminder that if you have apples and pears past their best, not to throw them in the rubbish, but cut out the rotten parts, cut the fruit in half and place it on the ground near the feeders and the blackbirds, thrushes, redwings and fieldfares will all enjoy a feast.

Please don’t complain if your birds choose to sample a different feed from listed above – very few birds read my scribbles and may decide to diversify in their culinary choices.

Go to the garden centre or other specialist outlet and you will see a whole array of feedstuffs and equipment but there is no need to spend a fortune. If you know the birds that visit your patch, then start by just buying for them and maybe expand into foods for other varieties later. And it does pay to shop around – there are huge disparities in the prices charged by different retailers .

The better the condition of the breeding birds now as the weeks count down to nesting and rearing their hatch, the better the chances for both the parent birds and their families so do please do what you can to help them.