Wildlife in the snow
A snowy landscape is a thing of beauty: the nearby houses iced with thick snow, the distant moors glimmering and the charcoal branches of trees and bushes outlined in white. But by the end of the week I’d certainly had enough of it. March 1st. – first day of Spring to meteorologists – grrr! However, the snow has advantages for the naturalist and, for the housebound elderly naturalist like me, it provides time with nothing to do but savour them.
Firstly – overnight snow records odd traces of all the visitors to your garden that you never knew about. The delicate straight line of prints left by the paws of a relaxed trotting fox as it crosses the lawn, even, if you’re lucky, the firm round trod of a badger with its rounded pad and five-toed outline. If you can get into the fields to the west of the town you will certainly find these and also the strange asymmetrical tracks of rabbits and, possibly, hares. You might even be able to read the adventures of the night – colliding tracks, the hollow of a pounce, even traces of fur or the rapid retreat of an escape. It’s like a wildlife newspaper.
Recent snow was a bit too dry and powdery to take clear prints except, in my garden, the delicate tracery of birds’ feet, and a mysterious narrow trench running for several yards. The mystery was solved when I observed my blackbird friend, Mr Raisins, hurrying across the lawn for his breakfast – not exactly running or flying – more like swimming through the light powder.
The other bonus has been the variety of birds brought to the feeders in desperation: seven or eight siskins at a time, their small olive, yellow, and black shapes jostling for position; then – a real treat – three redpolls. This small, streaky brown finch is recognisable by the carmine patch on its forehead. I was lucky enough to have one male bird already in its breeding plumage. The sugar-pink flush on its breast really lit up the day. There were also chaffinches, bullfinches, goldfinches and a nuthatch, who always insists on landing upside down and feeding like that. Can’t be good for the digestion! There was even a brief visit from a now-rare song thrush. Puffed up into a ball of brown, cream and dark speckles he perched for a few minutes on the fence, partially veiled by a gauze of whirling snow-flakes.