Winter can be hard for wildlife. Food dwindles and winter’s cold grip may be all-enveloping, but this doesn’t mean that there’s nothing about in the countryside.
Garden and hedgerow berries and seed-heads attract resident goldfinches, not to mention visiting fieldfares and redwings from the far-flung cold wastes of Russia and Scandinavia. If you’re out walking in the countryside listen for the fieldfares’ “chacalaca” calls. Though they’re usually to be seen darting from bush to bush around field margins, if there’s a cold north-easterly wind you may find them sheltering from the biting wind in village gardens– especially if you put cut apples and pears out for them. Bullfinches seem to have had another good breeding season locally so listen out for their quiet, melancholy contact calls. They stay in pairs or family groups through the winter and it’s amazing how hard it is to spot the brightly coloured male in his smart outfit of rich black, grey and pinky red. His mate, in more sombre hues of black, grey and pale plum is even harder to detect. Look out for the bright flash of their white rumps as they flit across our lanes.
Although January is regarded as the dead of winter, check hedgebanks and damp woodlands in south Wiltshire for drifts of snowdrops, pushing up bravely. Towards the end of winter their delicate white lantern flowers open to their fullest if we get any ‘warm’ days – welcoming any hungry queen bumble bees woken from hibernation.
Whilst strolling in the woods, listen for loud, staccato, drummings of territorial male great spotted woodpeckers, and the cat-like mewing of courting buzzards wheeling and tumbling overhead. Walking at dusk you may hear the insistent hoots and kee-wicks of amorous tawny owls and the blood-curdling screams of lovesick vixens teasing dog foxes, strutting resplendent in their luxurious, dense winter coats.
What’s not to love in Farley?
Dr Sue Walker