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  • Lily the bear and frisky pigeons

    Miranda Hodgson on 27 Jan 2010 at 05:19 PM

    This last week, I’ve been distracted from paying attention to the wildlife in my garden by wildlife of a very different sort, from the US. An article in the paper prompted me to look at a webcam, which has been set up in the den of a pregnant wild black bear, called Lily, who lives in the currently frozen wilds of Minnesota. Lily was about to give birth and I found myself gripped with fascination and suspense, staying up well past my bed time for more than one night, until she gave birth to her first cub. Imagine having bears on the doorstep! It’s just as well I don’t live in the US or I’d probably never go anywhere except the forest.

    Here in the UK, the snow and ice melted long ago (at least a week) and although more cold weather is forecast, the birds have reacted to the increase in warmth and the hedgerows have been filled with songs and cooings. It’s a welcome change from the silence of the freezing weather, when most birds hadn’t the energy to spare for singing.

    Anticipating the coming of spring, first off the blocks are the wood pigeons. It’s easy to tell when pigeons are thinking about mating because they’re so obvious about it. I’ve seen them in the courtyard this week, one following the other, with the following bird continually bobbing its head in an attempt to allure its mate. Then, there is the increase in cooing, which is another give away.



  • Melting snow, aggressive blackbirds and home-made fat balls

    Miranda Hodgson on 15 Jan 2010 at 03:02 PM

    After weeks of freezing temperatures, the weather is finally starting to thaw and the small birds, who had been absent from the courtyard at home for a worrying length of time, are returning, as shown by the increased number of little foot prints and feather marks in the snow.

    Chaffinches, bluetits, great tits and dunnocks are all coming in again and it’s a relief to see them and know for sure that they’re getting plenty to eat and drink. They will probably need a good bit of feeding up to regain the lost energy, so they are good and ready for mating when spring arrives


  • Feed the birds

    Miranda Hodgson on 08 Jan 2010 at 12:45 PM

    The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has issued a statement in The Independent saying that the UK’s birds are facing an emergency as the freezing temperatures show no sign of rising yet and will soon start to take a toll. The bird’s natural food is covered with snow and much of the water they need is frozen, so if they’re going to make it till the weather warms up, they need help from us.

    In Oxfordshire, we woke up on Wednesday to 15cm (6 inches) of snow which had blown into drifts 30cm (12 inches) deep. The bird’s water dish was both frozen and buried, as was the food I had put out the day before. I dug out the dish and refilled it only to find that the method I used to stop it freezing, of sinking the dish into a pot of dry compost, didn’t work any more and it froze over again within a couple of hours. Once surrounded by snow, however, it isn't freezing as quickly.

  • Ice, snow and the caterpillar's progress

    Miranda Hodgson on 03 Jan 2010 at 04:32 PM

    It’s the same every day at the moment. The first job of the morning is to put out bird food, dump the half an inch of ice in their water dish and refill it. There is a growing pile of ice next to the dish and it doesn’t look like melting any time soon, but the cold weather doesn’t stop the birds from bathing. Imagine it - bathing outside, during mid-winter, in cold water. It may not seem quite rational to us, but the birds need to bathe to keep their feathers in good condition, so winter baths are vital.

    If you want to get fancy, you can buy thermostatically controlled water heaters for bird baths, but there are other, cheaper methods. A small ball floating on the surface of the water helps some of it stay ice-free, as does a night-light candle under the bath (which needs to be protected from breezes). Here, I sit the bath in the top of a black plastic pot of insulating compost. It still freezes during the night, but stays ice-free in the day time.

    While other parts of the country have had impressive falls of snow, in Oxfordshire we have had the merest dusting, less than the sprinkling of icing sugar you’d get on a sponge cake, so we took pleasure in visiting family in Lincolnshire for Christmas, where they’d had proper snow. The snow in the garden was untrodden by humans, until I got there anyway, but on going to look around, I saw the tracks of both cats and rabbits and noticed that the rabbits used the same well-trodden (or hopped?) routes, while the cats’ tracks showed that they tended to wander about more.