Tag Archives: winter

Bird nerd part 7: blackcap’s back

I’m not a fan of winter, but it does make watching the birds in my garden a little more exciting. This week I was thrilled to see a blackcap for the first time since 2012. Blackcaps are a pretty type of warblers, with soft grey feathers and a striking black (if it’s male) or brown (if it’s female) cap.

Male blackcap
Male blackcap

Blackcaps aren’t the only unusual visitor I’ve seen in the garden recently. I saw a female chaffinch the other day. I’d only seen chaffinches in the garden twice before, both times back in 2013.

While few days go by without a visit from woodpigeons, feral pigeons are much rarer in my garden. But I have seen them twice in the last couple of weeks, having not seen them since 2013.

Obviously the food we put out is attracting more customers, despite the relatively mild and calm winter we’ve had so far. Better make sure I keep the feeders topped up!

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Dark day

It’s sad, but inevitable. The days are now so short I can no longer walk through the park on my way to the station. That means, for a few weeks, no sight of ducks or geese or coots or moorhens or the heron. No quiet calm of the early morning mist rising off the pond. No time outdoors in daylight.

Instead it’s the twice daily walk along the long, dull road. Trying to leap puddles too big for my meager long-jump skills. A different set of people to say good morning to.

I know it’s not a major thing to get saddened by. But I miss spending a few precious, peaceful moments in the park each day.

I don’t find winter the easiest time of the year. I love Christmas, but after that it’s a long, hard slog. Spring is when I thrive, filled with energy and new ideas.

At least I know that, in a few weeks, I will be able to walk through the park again. And a few months after that I’ll be able to watch the new ducklings scoot about the pond, each intent on their own mission. The seasons come, each in their turn, and bring different glimpses of beauty in nature. I just need to try and remember this at 7.15am in the morning, hurdling puddles under the sodium glow of the street lamps.

Hibernation

I’m writing this sat cosily in front of a fire, but feeling sorry for myself as I have a cold. It’s been a hectic few weeks, out every evening for one thing or another, and lots happening at work. Right now, I can’t help envying the hedgehog who is hibernating in our hogitat. I wish I could hibernate.

Hibernation is a very clever strategy for getting through the winter, when there’s not much food around for some animals. Comparing it to a long, deep sleep fails to do justice to it. The body temperature of hibernating animals drops to match its surroundings (but always kept above 1 degree C so it does not freeze). Their heart rate slows, and they can go almost an hour between short bursts of breathing. This reduces their energy consumption by around 90%.

Hibernating animals rely of fat supplies built up during summer and autumn. By now nearly all hedgehogs and dormice will be hibernating. Those who aren’t are likely to be underweight individuals looking for more food before they hibernate. While hibernation uses much less energy than being active, they still need enough fat to keep their bodies ticking over, and also to help them wake up.

On warmer winter days hibernating animals might wake from hibernation, and may even stir to find food or drink. But each time the animal wakes it uses up some of its precious fat reserves, so mild or variable winters are not good for hibernating creatures.

Hibernation is not without its risks. It can take hibernating animals several hours to wake, so they cannot respond quickly to threats like predators or floods. A considerable proportion of hibernating animals do not make it through the winter, not having enough fat reserves. But then winter does kill off a lot of more active animals as well.

Of UK mammals, only bats, dormice and hedgehogs properly hibernate. Other mammals, such as badgers, will reduce their activity, and stay snuggled down sleeping in their setts, but not shut down so much. Given the risks of hibernation, maybe I’d be better off imitating the badger instead… If you don’t see me for a while, you’ll know what I’m up to!