The Cold Before Christmas

Much of the month of December has been very cold this year.

The snowy postbox nativity scene in our daughter’s village of Wye.
The ground stayed frozen in the wood for many days
Woodcock standing on the ice

There was no snow in the meadows but the cold snap did bring in some winter birds. We repeatedly put up several snipe hunkered down amongst the grass tussocks and an occasional woodcock as well.

Trying to photograph a snipe in the meadows but they were way too fast for me
The dog escaped from the garden early one morning and took herself off to look for wildlife on her own. It’s not so much snipe as chasing foxes that she is interested in

Although I failed to catch a snipe on camera, John the bird ringer did catch one in his nets at Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory just up the coast. This is a female with a longer beak than the male, possibly to enable her to reach more prey in the soil and feed up and get into breeding condition faster. I was surprised at the size of her feet. Waders do need feet that are not going to sink into the mud and they often have a degree of webbing to help with this. But rather than webbing, snipe just have big feet because they also need to perch.

In the icy weather, birds can puff up their feathers to trap a layer of warmer air next to their skin:

A lovely ball of blackbird

There is still a good crop of ivy berries in the hedgerows for those birds that like to eat them:

At least the amphibians were safe from the heron whilst there was a thick sheet of ice on the ponds. We have put down four additional squares of corrugated roofing as extra protection for them as frog spawning time approaches in the new year.

Now, as we approach Christmas Day, the temperatures have risen, the ponds have thawed and the heron is back in position. Here it is yesterday fishing out a newt:

After Christmas we will be launching Operation Hazard Tape. This will involve posts in the ground all around the circumference of the pond and hazard tape laced between them at heron thigh height to stop the bird wading into the water. It’s going to look absolutely terrible but our experience in previous years tells us that the heron will only visit until the frogspawn is laid. Then it can all come down.

In November, I treated the One-eyed Vixen for mange with a course of Psorinum. There is now a heart-in-mouth wait to see if this has worked, or if it hasn’t and she develops further bald areas. I’m keeping my eye on her but do have an alternative treatment using Arsen Sulphur up my sleeve. Over the years that this fox has lived here, she has caught mange every year, occasionally twice a year, and treatment has always been successful in the past. I just hope that I can pull it off again.

Here is her mate with a bird – a Blackbird possibly?

I planted a hundred tulip bulbs at the end of November to produce cut flowers for the house next spring. However, it seems that every bulb has been dug up, and that the guilty party was able to very accurately detect where the bulbs were:

Holes where the tulip bulbs used to be

I put a trail camera on the allotment and got the evidence to convict a rat as the culprit:

I got lots of photos of the rat but here it is carrying off one of the last remaining tulip bulbs

The dog tells us that something very interesting is going on under this wood store and I suspect that there may now be a big cache of tulip bulbs under here:

Since tulips bulbs can be planted any time up to Christmas, I decided to have another go and purchased forty more bulbs:

Farmer Gracy, my usual bulb supplier, had finished selling tulip bulbs for the season, but a limited selection was still available from other suppliers
Here we go again. Another batch of bulbs being planted

The soil was raked over and this time chicken wire was pegged down over the bulbs. Of course rats could easily dig under this wire, but will they bother – especially when they already have a hundred bulbs stashed away close by to see them through the winter?

I suppose we will remove the wire just as the shoots appear above the ground. Despite planting tulip bulbs every autumn, it is the first year that we have had this problem. If the approach is successful then there is no reason why we can’t protect the tulip bulbs like this every year now to be on the safe side.

When the meadows are cut each autumn, all the cut material is removed off the land. By doing this, nutrient levels are slowly depleted from the soil, discouraging grasses and allowing other plants to thrive. We make an enormous pile of the cut vegetation up by the gate and it goes out in council green waste collections gradually over the next year. Because of this year’s drought, the pile was very much smaller than normal and the final load was taken away just before Christmas. Ordinarily we wouldn’t expect to be finished until next summer.

Getting the last of the pile into the green bags

We knew that there had been a wasp nest in this pile of vegetation this year and we had been leaving that section until last to be completely sure that the nest would be deserted:

Uncovering the wasp nest in the pile of grasses
It’s a fascinating structure of tessellating hexagons
Viewed from above
Viewed from the side, we could see that it was made up of several tiers
The tiers were held apart by supporting columns, creating spaces to allow good access to all the cells

Right at the end of November we decided to clear out the bird boxes in the wood but I opened the first one and found a dormouse staring up at me. We looked in them again this week and found some delightful empty dormice nests. The animals themselves will now be hibernating in their winter nests down at ground level.

A dormouse nest in a bird box. It was such a lovely thing that I couldn’t bring myself to clear it out

Some of the wooden dormouse nest boxes have been chewed, presumably by squirrels. I expect that we will need to inspect the boxes, rewrite the numbers, and generally get them ship shape again before the dormouse season restarts in the spring. Some might even need replacing.

There has been a lot of squirrel activity around the owl box and they are definitely nesting in there again.

Two squirrels at the entrance of the box and a third carrying leaves up to the box

We cleared this box out last month and they have been working so hard ever since to rebuild their nest in there. It will certainly feel uncomfortable removing it again in January – but I’m afraid that it is an owl box and not a squirrel box.

I finish with an old friend, the Patricia, who was moored alongside the meadows one night this week. Operated by Trinity House, she often comes to these waters to work on the lightships and buoys guarding the Goodwin Sands.

Throughout the night she was lit up and looked like our very own festive Christmas tree out to sea.

3 thoughts on “The Cold Before Christmas

  1. So much to admire here. The wasp nest photos are fascinating. We had a tiny one in our roof space several years ago, but I’ve never seen one this big. Have a great Christmas, Judy.

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