New Year, New Issues

 

Winter Dawn

 

Winter finally arrived and we have actually experienced some freezing weather this winter. You might think that we don’t want freezing cold weather that ends up costing us money on heating our homes and making us put on our winter clothes. The weather so far this winter has been incredibly mild and I was regularly seeing Bumblebees through December into the new year and the flowers that were planted in the late summer were still trying to flower in what used to be called winter. There were still Cornflower in flower at Christmas and it is only this recent spell of cold weather that has finally killed off the flowers and stopped the growth of the other plants.

Even when I look at the site today there is still a lot of green plants that have not been killed off but there were signs that the cold weather was having an effect on the local wildlife. As always, the birds were showing their presence with almost continual visits to the feeders with a number of species being seen daily. It was at this point when I realised that I was going to eat my own words when I had just topped up the feeders and returned to the kitchen and whilst watching the squirrels and Magpies wreak havoc on the feeders, I spotted an unwelcome face at the bottom of the old hedge. Yes, there was a Brown Rat busily feeding on the bird seed that had fallen on the ground. I stood and watched for 20 minutes and observed what the rats were doing and it was fairly obvious that not only was the bird and Badger food attracting the rats. I went and had a closer look and could see all of their runs in the old hedge and also realised that I had created a hotel for them by dumping all the vegetation from the reserve in a corner at the top of the site. This was their home!

Well When you look at the situation it’s not really much of a surprise that they have turned up as they have a home and food very close together and as I stood and watched a large adult Rat and a Grey Squirrel sitting next to each other eating the fallen bird seed, it was obvious that I would have to stop feeding the birds for a while.
I have realised that there were a number of options that I could carry out to try and make the site less attractive to the rats.

Knowing that this issue is happening has made me look at other management ideas for the site. I have also realised that time is starting to become little bit more precious and unless this winter finally catches up February and March could be quite hectic with clearance work and the final bits of ground preparation for the new insect attracting plants. That was a point I had started to look at and was looking at plans for the planting season. As always there has been some weeding to be done as after all last year’s clearance I had given the hidden bulbs a new lease of life and I have removed quite a few Daffodils and Crocus shoots. You may think that I should leave them as their flowers will bring early colour and food for early insects. I’m probably going to leave a few in but remove most of them as I don’t want them to take over areas that are for more sensitive insect attracting plants.

I was a little disappointed that the local predators had not dealt with my rodent issues and to be honest I’ve not seen the badgers for a few weeks and they had been leaving food which probably helped the squirrels and rats. It is not uncommon for Badgers to become inactive in the winter months and although they don’t hibernate they will lie low for a few nights and I’m guessing that these badgers are well fed and will easily survive the cold we are currently experiencing. The local Foxes were very noisy around Christmas and there were several nights of murderous screams in the woods behind the flats. There were more signs of spring and the days were brightened up with up with the first birdsong of the forthcoming spring starting to happen on a daily basis and this morning I could hear Mistle Thrush, Song Thrush and Blackbird all in song around the reserve and flats. It’s starting to get busy out there.

Blackbird by Steve Duffy

Blues and Poos!

I am a sucker for an invite! Supposedly to help but in truth just an observer who enjoys a chat and a stroll, particularly if its on Chobham Common. I met Ken, who is one of the volunteers working with the ¬†Amazing Grace Hedgehog organisation , to check some survey tunnels. Many people are aware of the crash in hedgehog numbers and there is still much to learn about their distribution and use of different habitats. Though the days checks showed no indications of Hedgehog activity, its often forgotten that “negatives” are as important as “positives”in that you can’t figure out whats going on without understand distribution. I had never seen one of these!

Hedgehog Tunnel

The food and inked sheet slide back in to the tunnel and the idea is that a visiting hog will leave inky footprints as it walks through, having a snack on the way.

Do check out this work on the web, its easy to find as the Amazing Grace has the very public support of Queen,s Dr Brian May. My only sadness is that this kind of laudable species work continues the sidelining of the core important conservation work of protecting and managing sites like Chobham Common, but it was forever thus.

Whilst on Chobham Common Ken did take me to the home of an easier to find mammal, the badger. Bearing in mind a badgers size I am continually amazed at how discreet their setts are, even in areas that I know well.

This sett is well established in a bank next to a road and path but unless you looked over the fence or notice the signs you really could miss it.

Near neighbours.

Badgers keep a tidy and clean home but it was a surprise here that the latrine, or lets call it as it is , their poo point was so close to a main entrance.

Poos!

Hardly discreet! But a further indication of the sense of security this sett must feel. My Grandson will be delighted I dared to post this, just for you River!

In a previous post I had mentioned my love for the Grayling butterfly, master of camouflage, but on a recent visit I noticed something new to me. On the ground this species can be almost invisibly unless you see it land and I now see that a Grayling on a tree is similarly protected.

Just tree bark?
Master of camouflage.

Don’t forget the Gentians! If you wish to see the glory you only have a little time left this year.

Sometimes big.
Sometimes smaller.
Always beautiful.