November has arrived and winter begins here. From this distance, we can look back over the spring and summer and see how our wildlife fared, which were the winners, who lost out. Spring seemed late in coming and the cold winter together with the cool wet weather in May and June delayed the arrival of summer visitors and hit some of our nesting birds hard. Much more difficult was the hot weather in July and August. The lack of rain and the fierce sun baked the earth hard making life difficult for ground foragers, particularly those which rely heavily of earthworms for their food – so blackbirds and thrushes, badgers and hedgehogs – all had a lean time and garden wildlife was grateful for the supplies of food, and particularly water, which we put out for them.
However, the hot dry weather was very much appreciated by butterflies and dragonflies. It coincided in our garden with the flowering of the Buddleia and, on one memorable July day, we had six species of butterfly feeding there together. We were also entertained by several large dragonflies, though they tended to whiz through so fast that it was difficult to identify them! One thing is certain, though – the combination of rain and sunshine in 2006 must have suited our native fruit bearing trees and bushes. The evidence is all around us, a veritable harvest festival of hips, haws, rowan and holly berries and lots more. I remember, in childhood, hearing adults say sagely, “Look at all the berries. It’s going to be a hard winter!” However, such bumper crops tell us about the preceding seasons rather than being prophetic of the one to come.
Our lawn has been strewn with huge ripe acorns which two rather skinny young squirrels have been busy gathering up, alternately munching and scampering off, tails undulating behind, to bury their treasures in the grass, flowerbeds and flower pots. No jays though. Usually, in the autumn, two or three of these colourful corvids arrive to join in the harvest, gathering acorns and flying off to conceal them in some quiet spot where they will unerringly locate them again weeks or months later. We realise that their absence is probably not a sign of a declining jay population; it is much more likely that they are spoiled for choice, so heavy is the acorn crop in the local countryside. In the months to come, we may well find ourselves rather short of the usual visitors to our feeders – a bit disappointing for us, but a sign that the birds are enjoying the rich provisions available in the woods and hedgerows.