Sunday, 10 January 2010

Spare a thought for our mammals.




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!

20 comments:

Bonnie, Original Art Studio said...

Oh yes - I wonder every day how these little creatures survive our harsh weather.

Wolf Hall is next on my list of books to purchase. Thanks for adding your thoughts to all the good reviews out there.

Bob said...

Before xmas when robert was triming some trees he brought me a branch ladened with berries to see if I wanted it for work, I left it on the bench in the garden and it fell to the ground and i soon realized the black birds were enjoying it so left it for them. I try not to put bird food on the ground because of rats and it encourages the hens and peacocks into the garden which sets the dogs off but the blackbirds dont seem to come onto the table. Im watching the birds feeding today going to work at 7am and not back till 5.30pm all in the dark its a week since i last saw my garden or walked the dogs in the daylight.
best wishes for 2010 keep warm, vicki

Poet in Residence said...

It's amazing how they survive, like the hedgehog for example with his 5 heartbeats per minute. Like you we are taking car of our wild birds and also as with you our local streams haven't frozen so that's another good thing. The squirrels are the most active.

steven said...

hello weaver! i've noticed the rabbits are beating a path around the property out back. the voles tunnel under the snow and the mice - well they jump out and then under the snow. goodness knows how they survive but they do. i take care of the bunnies every winter and i'm sure that the other little critters pick at what the bunnies don't find or finish. it's a challenging time for big and little critters. have a warm afternoon in the dale. steven

Reader Wil said...

Winter is very severe all over Europe now. It started snowing here and at the same time some very enthusiastic people have been skating. I have been in my house all day.
I hope that all creatures great and small will survive this winter!

Heather said...

The stream which runs beside the footpath on the other side of our wall is still burbling away, and with all the garden sheds, hedges and other hideaways in local gardens, I hope there is enough shelter for mammals. We have a hedgehog box which we fill with bedding each autumn and the birds are very well catered for - ground feeders, bird tables and loads of things hanging from various hooks and branches.

Granny Sue said...

This is a good time of year for book recommendations. I will give Wolf Hall a try. Right now I'm listening to the most recent in the Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency series--lighthearted and at the same time a relaxing thoughtful read as are all of the books in this series. Also reading Black Mountain Breakdown by Lee Smith, and Appalachian writer. Her sense of place is so vivid and her characters very true to types found in these hills--both good and bad.

Granny Sue said...

Our birds are hungry with so much snow on the ground. They are ven coming on the porch and stealing the cat's food. Daring, I'd say. And the deer--Larry saw two of them eating from the dogs' food bowl. Where were the dogs? Sitting and watching. Generous spirits, aren't they?

Rinkly Rimes said...

It seems the harsh weather enables the survival of the fittest so I hope you're fit!

ewix said...

So glad you enjoyed Wolf Hall
must get it asap!
Still horribly cold here but currently no snow.

Titus said...

Good post as reminder it's not just the birds, Weaver, and thanks for your views on "Wolf Hall" - everyone I've spoken to so far has either been a "loved it" or "hated it" with one "couldn't finish it" thrown in for good measure!

willow said...

We just had three beautiful doe come nibble on some pretzels we left out in the snow. It's amazing how they can survive through the winter.

Elisabeth said...

We are not so unfortunate as the mammals, the birds and other animals who struggle with the weather because at least most of us humans have some form of protection, though not all of us.

I will think of you snowed in as you have been these last several days when the temperature here soars to 43 Celcius. Other Australians make similar comparisons, I see.

These extremes on opposite sides of the world are scary.

Jenn Jilks said...

With 100 cm of snow and -20, our critters have bedded down deep in the snow this winter. Raccoons are snoring nicely and the cats still walk on the ice with me!

We feel badly for those who are used to such snow. Hubby has been walking an ailing man's dog twice daily and he has such rosy cheeks. Hubby, I mean! The dog is happy as a ...polar bear, methinks!

ArtPropelled said...

It is upsetting to think about creatures suffering during extreme weather conditions. During the weeks and weeks of rain our swallow population took a huge hit since the rain kept the flying insects away and the swallows could find no food.

Derrick said...

Hello Weaver,

I've always felt sorry for animals that are outside in all weathers even in "normal" times but this snow must be a considerable challenge. Nature being nature, however, I daresay the balance will be redressed somehow.

Crafty Green Poet said...

So many animals must be really struggling just now, large parts of our rivers and canal are frozen, there's very few open areas for the fishing birds. Hedgehogs may be among the lucky ones as long as they weren't caught in bonfires in the autumn

Glad you enjoyed Wolf Hall, i never really got into it unfortunately, though I do see it was very fascinating,

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks for the comments. Interesting what Vicki says about birds eating from the branch on the floor - i noticed a bush full of berries the otherday - I think they were pyracantha and nothing had touched them. Were they nasty to taste? I can't think the fieldfares, redwings and blackbirds had missed them. It is nice to know from Reader Wil that we are not suffering alone in this cold weather. And I know that my blog friends in Canada and parts of the US smile at our concern with such a little bit of snow by their standards. As Jenn says - they have 100cm of snow, and that is not unusual this time of year.
As I write it is sleeting outside and the snow appears to be thawing - time will tell. Keep warm!

BT said...

Jim and I have been feeding the birds but haven't thought about the mammals. Having said that, any food that reaches the ground is soon gobbled up by Buster, whatever it is! I had a punnet full of bread and bits and bobs, had put some water on it to soften it a little and left it on the side. When I came back in it had gone. Buster!! He is a terror. We put a coconut out and it had been eaten in days. Amazing.

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