Nature: Beyond the shortest day

PUBLISHED: 07:08 20 December 2017

This blackbird might be a visitor from Scandinavia.

This blackbird might be a visitor from Scandinavia.

(c) copyright

Mike Toms explores how winter light levels affects our wildlife.

The cloud cover makes a difference to these winter days; on dry bright days the winter afternoons last long enough to give a sense of the day, eking out feeding opportunities for the visiting blackbirds and thrushes. It feels as if things never really get going on those days where cloud cover keeps the sun hidden from view. We are, however, beyond the shortest day and beginning the cycle that will lead us back to the warmth of summer. It feels a long way off, and I always find the second half of winter the harder of the two; it will not be until March that I begin to feel the corner truly turned.

The winter conditions are more challenging for the birds and small mammals feeding in the garden. Over the last two weeks their numbers have grown, no doubt a reflection of the cold weather and snow earlier in the month. Up to a dozen blackbirds may be seen feeding in the garden together, their nervous ‘chooking’ calls reverberating through the darkness of late afternoon. During the few daylight hours that they have available the birds spend the majority of their time feeding, visiting the bird table to feed on fat products or taking to the hanging feeders in a clumsy fashion – underlining that these are birds most comfortable foraging on the ground.

Many of the male blackbirds present will be immigrants, arriving from Scandinavia, Germany and Poland. Lured west by the prospect of better feeding opportunities, some of these individuals will have arrived on the coast during October and November, feeding on hedgerow fruit and berries and only turning to gardens now that these food supplies have become diminished.

Of course it is not just the blackbirds that are making use of the garden feeders; a succession of blue and great tits appear at the sunflower seed feeders, often removing seed to eat in the nearby apple trees. Occasionally, a flock of long-tailed tits passes through the garden, their sharp calls often revealing their presence before the birds themselves come into view. The feeders will remain busy over the coming months, supporting the birds through this challenging time of the year.

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