Rediscovering Love for Hot Water Bottles

I obviously pushed fate a bit too far by calling my previous post ‘A Few Small Signs of Spring’. Snow fell on Sunday and has stayed on the ground the whole week, with temperatures hardly getting above freezing. The weather has felt, quite literally, perishing for anything trying to survive out there. Even for us, living in a centrally heated house, we have had to retrieve the hot water bottles from under the stairs and keep them tucked under blankets to stay warm.

There was another fall of snow on Wednesday which finished just after dark, creating a lovely blank canvas for the footprints of the creatures of the night.

The nights have been very cold, some of them getting down to -5°C, and often accompanied by strong and bitter north-easterly winds.

We have this teapot nest box. It’s an open fronted box, of the sort favoured by birds such as Robins and Wrens:

A few years ago, a Wren made a nest in it. A male Wren will make five or six nests and the female then inspects each one and decides which one she wants to use. Clearly the teapot nest got the thumbs down because it was never used and so we left the nesting material in it. Subsequently, chicken wire has gone around the box to provide protection against Magpies, although I notice that there is actually now quite a large hole in the wiring that needs attention – a Magpie could easily stick its head through that.

This box may never have been used to raise young, but a Wren has been roosting in there overnight during this freezing weather.

I put a camera on the box and even went so far as to set it to the correct time. Unfortunately, it didn’t perform brilliantly, but it is possible to make out the bird going into the box at dusk, at eight minutes past five.

Isn’t it pretty amazing that, on the next evening, it was also eight minutes past five that it entered the box?

I think that many of the nest boxes here are used as night time roosts over the winter, judging by the amount of droppings we find in them.

This spell of unusually cold weather has meant that we have been seeing a few different birds. The Woodcock that we first saw on Sunday, has stayed with us in the meadows all week, and we have been flushing it up from the hedgerow margins every day as we walk round.

Intriguingly, there is another wader that we have been flushing several times a day but it is gone in a flash and we only ever get the briefest of views. The most we can really say is that it is smaller than the Woodcock with a white front and long bill. If only it would wander in front of a camera as the Woodcock did.

Yesterday we realised that there are now actually three of these unknown waders working the meadows by day. I have tried to increase the chances of getting the birds on a camera by redeploying six cameras from duties elsewhere and placing them to look at spots where we have previously set the bird up. Nothing so far, although I will keep trying. This approach did get the Woodcock again though:

Wrapping up really warm and putting a hot water bottle in under our coats, we have also been up on the Deer stalking seat, looking out over the second meadow:

In this way, we found the 86th species for the meadow bird list – a Snipe. Not dissimilar to the Woodcock really, but a pale tummy and three yellow stripes front to back on the top of its head clinched it for us.

Could our mystery waders actually be Snipe? Maybe, but we don’t think so and will continue investigating.

While all this was going on, our 87th species touched down briefly in the second meadow – a Lapwing.

There has been a group of around a dozen Meadow Pipit, an unusual bird here, working their way around the grass tussocks that are standing proud of the snow.

A small flock of Starlings is the first that we had seen here for ages:

Some Redwing and Fieldfare have been working the leaf litter at the hedgerow edges:

Large flights of Cormorants are to be seen every winter, flying low over the sea below us. This week, however, they flew over the meadows instead:

Lurking in the hedgerows as we were, trying to photograph the Pipits earlier this week, we started watching Gulls wheeling overhead. Herring Gulls are a very familiar bird here, but there were Black-headed Gulls too, distinguishable by a very obvious white stripe down the leading edge of their wing. In their winter plumage, they have the dark mark behind the eye but, in the summer, their heads will be chocolate brown.

There was a third type of Gull as well – Common Gull. These Gulls, with a small yellow/green bill, have almost completely white wing tips, or certainly they appear so from afar.

Common Gull has now been entered onto our meadow bird list at number 88. It’s not that they have never been here before, but rather this is the first time we got our act together and properly identified them.

This week, for the first time ever, a Black Headed Gull has been coming to feed on the strip. What a pretty Gull it is:

It must have been a very challenging week for Green Woodpeckers, needing to probe the frozen ground for ants:

I suspect that it has also been tough for birds hunting small mammals such as this Kestrel. The Voles are probably still going about their business but now under the snow layer making them so much more difficult to catch.

The winter feed that we put down is clearly being appreciated by seed eaters:

Badgers have continued to make some daytime cameo appearances:

A couple of wintery scenes from the meadows:

The one-eyed vixen has been keeping a low profile recently but good to see that she is still around and looking healthy:

The Foxes in the wood have always been quite elusive but they have certainly been seen on the cameras during this snowy weather:

The wood looked completely wonderful in the snow:

The new pond had all but disappeared:

I see that male Pheasants have an issue with their long tail feathers in this weather:

And Woodcock have problems with those beaks of theirs:

There has been a rare visit from a Red Deer. I wonder what they are finding to eat in the snow:

I had ordered some Snowdrops ‘in the green’ to plant under a tree in the garden. They arrived this week but the ground has been frozen hard.

The weather forecast for this coming week suggests that milder times are on their way. I can look forward to getting out and doing some gardening to plant out the Snowdrops, putting the hot water bottles back under the stairs and definitely starting to look again for a few small signs of spring.

2 thoughts on “Rediscovering Love for Hot Water Bottles

  1. I especially like the second badger in the snow photo. Christmas card material. 🙂
    It sounds like the creatures will definitely be pleased that milder weather is coming.

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