Finally our mild weather came to a halt during the second week in January and instead we were faced with cold winds and rain by night and awoke in the mornings to frozen windscreens on our cars!
My mornings start early and I am out and about by 6.45 am attempting to walk my dogs in the New Forest by torch light and feeding my horses en route which can and is somewhat of a challenge on dark dreary mornings. At least by just after 7 am if the weather is bright enough I can at least see the outline of my dogs and find the horses resting in one of the paddocks. They too have noticed the sudden change in the weather and I am greeted with nudges in the back hoping to motivate me more quickly to get the food out! In the meantime the dogs sit patiently by the gate avoiding huge hooves in the shuffle to get to the best tasting hay first.
Normally by Nov/Dec I start hanging peanuts and seeds from the branches in the field. This year the mild conditions has seen plenty of insects and food available leaving the containers of food untouched. Now the weather has changed I have seen a difference in the birds attendance and the feeders are now empty on arrival. I have noticed that a collection of birds, from robins, blackbirds, blue tits, marsh tits, nuthatches, woodpeckers, magpies pigeons arrive and feed early morning and upon my return visit in the evenings I will have to replenish all feeders. During the winter months when the day light hours are shorter birds feed early morning and early afternoon but these habits change as the weather gets warmer.
I am very fortunate to have grazing land for my horses right on the edge of the New Forest with only a couple of residential properties leading off the lane. Fortunately I get to see a vast amount of wildlife, for instance my visit this morning saw three roe deer happily wandering through the paddocks having jumped the fence from the forest side in search of food in the surrounding fields. On occasions I may find a vixen searching along the stream knowing that rabbits have burrows there. Badgers also venture in from the forest creating gaps under the fencing and make their pathways across the fields during their nightly visits searching out grubs and beetles. Another unusual visitor that often springs up from the stream is a heron – what he manages to find is a mystery to me but there is obviously something tasty lurking beneath the water and his reason for visiting! We have resident tawny owls which I often hear during my visits and not forgetting our summer visitors a pair of buzzards who nest in a small clump of fir trees sitting along our natural stream which runs through two of the fields. I never tire of what I will find with each visit – for me its an absolute delight I thrive on it, what could be better, nature at its best!
Getting back to the topic of which I wanted to highlight in this article is to ask everyone, now the weather is changing, please wherever possible keep feeding our wild birds. The cold weather will make them vulnerable especially if and when extreme cold weather descends, many northern places in the UK are experiencing cold conditions already. Providing them with food will help them survive and provide you with hours of entertainment. I hope many of you will have taken part in the RSPB bird count at the end of January! We must do all we can to help our feathered friends at this time of year and don’t forget the water – they still need to drink and bathe. If it freezes make sure you make water available during the day – water is equally as important, if not more so!