Yes it’s that time of the week again - the weekly sightings update and once again I'll start with the weather.
Since it snowed on Sunday (10th December), the temperature has remained mostly below zero. On Monday the water bodies around the reserve had frozen completely. This was an interesting start to the week, presenting one of the spectacles of winter … tracks in the snow. The trails around the reserve showed the variety of species including fox and small mammals (with their little feet and a faint line in the snow from their tail). There were bird prints large and small. Rabbit and Hare prints. There were prints scattered everywhere, which was amazing to see.
Hare prints by Tom Allen
Another spectacle of the wintry snap were the congregations of birds in the small areas of ice free water, which had hundreds of wildfowl gathered within them. The coots and moorhens were skating and sliding. From Haverton view point there was one small patch of water with hundreds of coot huddled together. Top Tank had 4 little grebes cuddled together alongside more coots. The main lake had swans, geese, wigeon, gadwall, teal, pintail and pochard in an area smaller than a car.
And finally, we have hundreds of thrushes, fieldfares especially. Hopefully there will be enough berries left for the waxwings !
Until next week, have a great week, and keep wildlife watching.
I’m not sure I know what a brass monkey is, and I’m quite sure I’ve never seen one, but if there is one at Saltholme today, as several people have suggested, it will be wearing extra underwear, a thick coat, hat, gloves and scarf. Which may make it difficult to spot, so I suggest check all the visitors for a furry tail.
Snow is interesting in that we can see the tracks of the various mammals and where they go at night, and I found a couple of rat burrows this morning by following little footprints. But frozen water is a serious problem for wildfowl. The last thing any creature needs in these temperatures, is an inability to feed. Water voles become easy prey for herons in these conditions. When I went to feed the visitor centre feeding station this morning, there was a patch of open water in the main lake which was full of birds including wigeon, gadwall, teal, a pintail, Hissy, Scratchy and George. Even though I fed the edge of lake with corn, only a few mallards made it Bambi like to the food. The swans were unable to get onto the ice and so remain hungry.
Gobbling mallards and hungry swans
During these cold spells, I can’t help worrying about all the animals that are tucked up asleep. It may seem like a good idea to sleep it out, but many hedgehogs die in hibernation. It’s not well known that hedgehogs wake several times during a winter, during warmer spells, and emerge to try and feed. They can also move to another nest, although I think this may be a problem for garden hedgehogs that have limited suitable nest sites. Putting food out for them during these warmer spells can be a life saver.
You may remember Michael the 3 legged hedgehog I found here in October 2016. Michael lives in my garden now, and even though we go to great lengths to ensure his happiness, he’s still a grumpy little thing and does an Elvis when we bump into each other (head own, shoulders up), and huffs at us. I put this down to the vet taking his bony stump off.
Michael the Elvis impersonator
Michael is hibernating in specially made box with an extra box over the top for more insulation. The tunnel entrance is packed with hay with a drinking straw pushed through for ventilation. Last Sunday (the 3rd) it was a warmer day than the previous week, and I suspected that Michael may pop out for a bit. We put some cat biscuits and puppy food in a couple of bowls just in case, and sure enough, we saw him wobbling around at about 8 o’clock, although I think he came out earlier. He found the food and sat there and gorged on it, before wobbling back into his box. I then re-built up the hay, and he never came back out. It is then important to bring any food back in that could attract mice, rats, cats etc. I did then worry about how he may digest the food when his body temperature and heart rate drop, but I’m sure he knows what he’s doing.
So when this freezing spell is over, and if it warms up, if you do have hedgehog asleep in your garden, put some food out for it early in the evening, and you may just save a life.
Another cold week here at Saltholme, you definitely need your hat and gloves in this weather! Despite the weather there has been some interesting sightings this week. The cold snap has seen thrushes passing through the reserve including, mistle thrush, redwing, blackbird, song thrush and fieldfare. These birds are on the move to find suitable habitat with plentiful berries. With the cold weather set to stay a while longer you may get an opportunity to see these birds yourself.
Fieldfare by Peter Garbutt
A chiffchaff which is normally a rare sight during the winter months was spotted near the Phil Stead Hide (7th December). Sightings of chiffchaff are generally associated with singing birds in the spring but with the trend of milder winters some individuals choose to remain in the UK. Sparrowhawks have also been spotted regularly from the Watchpoint hide, there has also been one trying to take teal at Dormans Hide. The last interesting report this week is of a short eared owl spotted yesterday (7th December) on the Wildflower Walk.
There are still plenty of other birds around the site and until next week keep wildlife watching!