The sights, activities of natural subjects in and around the village.

 

After all the wet weather and windy weather we experienced at the end of last year and into the New Year, it has taken until the third week in January before we have been able to enjoy some really cold frosts at night and unbroken sunshine throughout the day. It really has been most welcome, but unfortunately this seasonal weather doesn't look set to last for long. Back to the default wind and rain soon!

The long January nights have not been quiet around here though! Apart
from the sound of owls calling to each other in order to secure their
mate for the breeding season, other noises, piercing the dark, have
been very noticeable. Foxes have also been contributing in their way
too! You
'll hear two typical calls at this time of year, the raucous triple
bark, which the dominant dog fox uses to proclaim his territory, and a
loud wailing scream. Before a successful mating, the vixen may often rebuff an amorous male with snarls and yelps. Even when they have mated, screams will persist as the copulating dog fox is temporarily trapped by the female.

At this time of year, you may see the pair tail to tail in the 'tie' position which, from the sounds produced by mating animals, may be an uncomfortable affair. The two foxes can remain locked together for an hour or more, but once mating is over, the vixen wastes no time in preparing an earth, January is a busy time for fox families. Cubs born in the previous spring disperse to find territories or mates of their own. Although many leave of their own accord, they are sometimes driven off by their parents who don't welcome competition for food or partners.

It has been very busy at our bird table, too. Many of the regular
visitors are here, including the Great Spotted Woodpecker, who
comes to decimate our peanut supply! Great Spotted Woodpeckers
begin
'drumming' in January and this will continue into April or until
the young are fledged. Both sexes participate in the drumming as
they communicate and establish their territories. As these birds
don
't have a song to advertise ownership of their chosen patch of
woodland, so they make themselves known by drumming on dead
trees with their powerful bills. Woodpeckers ought to get headaches
as a result of those hammering blows; they don
't because their skulls are cushioned by a matrix of minute pockets of air, supported by strengthened bone tissue. It's a dramatic sound and some creative individuals will use other surfaces such as the metal plates on telegraph poles to create an even louder sound. A story has it that one bird even used a metal public address tannoy at a racecourse!

We also have three starlings who seem to be the best of mates until some (out of date) fruit cake is thrown out onto the grass. A certain hierarchy (or should that be pecking order!) automatically kicks in and it is quite amusing to watch them as they try to either fend each other off, or try to steal a morsel out of turn. You sometimes wonder if they will ever get around to eating at all!

The cake has also attracted a pair of Blackcaps to the feeding frenzy. They seem to have extremely voracious appetites as far as the sweetmeats go! While Blackcaps are traditionally summer visitors, typically arriving in March and April and migrating south for the autumn, they are increasingly staying in the UK all year round. The Blackcap is a Grey Warbler, easily identified by its distinctive cap. Males have black caps (as the name suggests), while the female's cap is chestnut brown. Juvenile males also have a brown cap. They have thin, dark-coloured beaks and brownish-grey wings. They are a similar size to Robins.

Blackcaps eat a diet mostly made up of insects, including flies and caterpillars. Unlike the majority of warblers, they also enjoy eating berries, and are particularly fond of mistletoe berries. They are actually extremely efficient at spreading mistletoe seeds, eating the flesh of the berry and wiping the seed on a branch, allowing it to potentially germinate there.

We are over halfway to spring now and I, for one, am really looking forward to it. See you there!

That's it....'til next time!

Geoff Pinn gjpinn@tiscali.co.uk 01404812878

Gardening thoughts from Dolberries

I caught the end of Gardeners Question time the other day. Cathy Clugson ended with a great quote from the novelist Barabara Kingsolver:

I've seen women looking at the jewellery ads with a misty eye and one hand resting on the heart and I only know what they are feeling because that's how I read the seed catalogues in January.

In the dark days of January and February, it lifts your heart to delve into the seed catalogues and get excited about what to grow this year. I used to go to bed with my favourite catalogues and highlight all my desires even though I don't have the space for even half of them. Nowadays, I save paper and look and order online. A favourite company is Chiltern Seeds which offer the world in seed from trees to tiny Alpines and everything in between. So a few long, dark evenings should produce an exciting list of what to sow later in the year and hopefully my choices will provide something to write about in future articles!

The aforementioned GQT programme came from Langholm in Scotland where they grow 200 varieties of Chilli Pepper. While I shan't be growing that number, I am going to try some different varieties to use the space in the greenhouse more profitably. In the autumn, I can then combine them with the crab apples and make Chilli Jam - a fully home grown product (if you don't count the sugar!)

Viburnum x bodnantense

As well as looking forward to the brighter days of seed sowing, it's nice to look out of the window and see that it hasn't all been dark and dismal in the garden. At Dolberries, the Viburnum x bodnantense is really pretty with dark pink buds opening to sweetly scented paler pink flowers on the bare stems. Also Mahonia x charity, which has scented long spikes of yellow flowers. This is looking better after a good prune so the plant is less straggly and has more impact. Skimmia, too, has its dark red buds in winter opening up in spring.
On my wish list for a winter
flowering shrub is Hamamelis
(Witch Hazel) which has spidery
yellow flowers that are fragrant in

winter but will provide a beautiful autumnal colour too, earning a place in the garden for year round interest. Finally, the Winter Jasmine is looking particularly good, bright yellow flowers on long stems by our porch. Snowdrops are also making an appearance so not much longer to wait for spring with hope for some drier weather so we can get out in the garden and sow those seeds we've decided on.

Alison Stevens