As this hard Winter sets in and yet more snow is forecast, we are feeding our garden birds more and more food - sunflower hearts, peanuts and mixed seed in the feeders, a string of hanging fat balls and a good scattering of oats, suet, sultanas and food scraps on the table and under the bushes. We have a sense of responsibility for a huge range of our local birds, who seem to spend almost all the daylight hours in and around our feeders and we hope that we are giving them enough food, and enough variety to sustain them through this bad spell of weather.
But an article in the Country section of our local paper, The Yorkshire Post, today makes interesting reading. Whenever there is a "big freeze" then populations of birds and mammals suffer. One good thing in our area is that the beck shows no sign of freezing at present, so species like kingfishers and herons will still be able to fish. Also several fields around us have more or less been left and are consequently full of tall seed headed plants and tufts of rough dead grass. This kind of environment helps because there will be areas where the snow has not penetrated and where the ground is still soft enough for long beaks to probe for food and where little mammals can also scurry.
The article speaks of the danger to the small mammals - field mice, voles, the small animals who cannot move around easily in the deep snow. They find it hard to move and if they try to move on top of the snow then they become very vulnerable to predators like hawks and owls, who are also suffering. As to rabbits, the farmer says that this kind of weather always "sorts them out", as only the very strong and hardy survive.
The photograph above shows the hedge just beyond our feeding station. I took the photograph from our kitchen window and I must say I never look at that hedge without seeing something moving in it, for it is a haven for birds and mammals. There is a little snow under the hedge but not much and a sharp wind keeps it fairly clear, so that there is usually some open ground for small mammals and birds to forage. I have yet to see the wrens on our bird table, yet I rarely look out without seeing one scratching in that hedge bottom. With the snow behind it is easy to see anything moving in there. Now we are scattering a bit of wheat under there - hoping that field mice and voles will find it and have a little feed.
I think hedgehogs are the lucky ones as they hibernate. There are usually quite a few who hibernate under the hay in our hay barn. At the rate we are using the hay for feeding the hungry sheep, the hay will soon run out, so I hope they won't be exposed. If they are the farmer will quickly put a good layer of straw over them to keep them safe until they wake up. As for the farm cats, who sleep in there for much of the day as well as at night in this weather, they will have to search for somewhere else warm. If all else fails they will no doubt move in with the heifers on a warm bed of straw.
On a completely different subject, I have finished reading Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, this year's Booker prize novel. I found the first hundred pages rather hard going but once I got into it I found the whole thing absolutely fascinating as a picture of life in Tudor times - we all know the basic facts about Henry VIII and his struggle with the R C church over annulling his marriage to Katherine and his marrying Anne Boleyn, but Mantel's dealing with the subject through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell and her background to the period which is so very well researched, is absolutely rivetting. I thoroughly recommend it as a brilliant read for this "stay by the fire" weather. Keep warm!