Monday, 28 December 2015

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Being thoroughly British, let's talk about the weather (and if you are from Yorkshire, or a farmer, or a fisherman, let's complain about it too!)

This has officially been the warmest December on record and I don't think we had a proper frost in the whole month. As a result, everywhere looks pretty green; fresh shoots are growing and buds, even blossoms, are appearing on the trees. Nowhere is greener than the arable fields that were sown in the autumn during our vintage tractor event.

The grass in our meadows just kept growing but our guest-cattle did a great job of cropping it while leaving clumpy bits where there are rushes and sedges. Just before Christmas the cows had to be rounded up and taken away by trailer. It is usually quite a difficult job and can take all day if the cattle don't co-operate so Ranger Matt takes them treats for a day or two before hand to get them to come to him and get used to the corral. Unfortunately, he left it a bit late this year and went down the evening before with a load of hay only to find that they were already asleep somewhere out there in the darkness.

Come morning time, Matt expected the worst but the little darlings were happily munching hay in the corral. All he had to do was shut the gate and put the kettle on. This year's cattle have been the most docile we have ever had. See them soon at a supermarket near you!

Mild weather like this is great for or native wildlife. Tiny birds like wrens, goldcrests and long-tailed tits can be decimated by a big freeze and these birds are really plentiful right now. Kingfishers also suffer when water turns to ice, often moving away to running water until that too freezes. A few survive around the coast at saline inlets and rock pools that don't freeze. Wildfowl and waders enjoy the benefits of a mild winter too, so you might expect bird-watchers to be overjoyed.

Well, no; not really. You see, birders are more interested in rarities and in winter these tend to be migrants from the north and east with the odd American rarity spotted, usually in Cornwall. True to form we have an American green-winged teal at Grafham Water and we have had an influx of siskins and redpolls this year. The redpolls are on our bird feeders at the visitor centre all day and every day.

On the lakes we have a big numbers of Icelandic widgeon, which is normal. Even in mild winters, Iceland is no place to be a duck, though a few whooper swans do manage to stay around hot thermal pools. By now we might expect Denmark and Holland to be in the grips of snow and ice, forcing some rarer birds our way but that hasn't really happened. We might see a goosander or a smew or two, but even goldeneyes are hard to find this year.

Have you seen any birds actually nesting? Cormorants are already at work gathering sticks and pigeons never seem to stop but, if the mild weather continues, we might well get a few birds in our nest boxes. I noticed that birds are using some of the new bat-boxes on the Haul Road, but these are likely to be wrens or tits using them as a winter roost.

Cold blooded animals like snakes, frogs and newts slow right down as the temperature drops and we don't expect to see them until spring as they are hiding beneath logs and stones. This year, you can still come across frogs in the ponds, even now.

Today I saw honey bees and bumble bees on the move and ladybirds soaking up some rays!

MORE NEWS TO COME: Please pop back later!