Monday, 10 April 2017

a thin, dry desiccating wind

Early rise to set up bird ringing mist nets in the garden: the second time we've partnered Richard.
As it became brighter, the garden reeled with the trill of redpolls, the tinsel chatter of goldfinches punctuated with the prospecting chirrups of tree sparrows.

52 birds caught: goldfinch; chaffinch, greenfinch, lesser redpoll, blue tit, great tit, blackbird. Each bird was caught, measured, ringed and released. The data goes on to the BTO for analysis.

Ringing has allowed us to 'get to know' some of our garden birds a little better: I'm thinking of 'Andy', a chunky male blackbird ringed here in February 2016 who finds his way into the nets each time we set them up.

Amongst the many markers of seasonal change, the large numbers of lesser redpolls around for ringing left the following Monday. Now the garden is greening but is dried by temperatures in the upper teens and a light, desiccating wind.

The dry conditions can potentially affect wildlife in many ways. Ground dwelling invertebrates such as slugs, snails and earthworms become more difficult to find. For gardeners, the lack of gastropods is a bonus as we prepare our dahlias and beans for planting out next month. But for hedgehogs, the lack of slugs and snails can be a shortage of food. At this time they have emerged from winter with fat reserves depleted and sometimes in poor physical condition. Poor condition may then lead to poor breeding success.

This is an opportunity to provide supplementary food. I was delighted when the 'Hog cafe' located in the meadow attracted hedgehogs as soon as I began putting out dried mealworms and dried cat food - chicken flavour apparently a preference.  The 'cafe' is an upturned plastic box with two 5" sawn-down drain pipes offering access and exit. When providing dried food, a dish of water should also be given.  Or a pond provided. As the latter takes considerably more effort, I've chosen this one. I have opened a second branch of the cafe in the Vegetable Garden with a long-term view to franchising. HogDonalds.  I'm predicting a spike in interest.

Now I'm checking for nesting birds, wrestling with the baffling codes and abbreviations used by the BTO on their record cards: what a collection of mad geniuses these people are. Around the garden I trudge, checking my lower nesting boxes. Then around again, with ladders to reach those 4m high. My sister bought me a selfie-stick from Poundland and this has proved very useful for  checking the higher, open-fronted boxes. I was expecting a pair of stock doves to be occupying nest box #37. I almost fell from my ladder when I withdrew my selfie-stick and saw an owl's face looking back at me from the iPhone screen.

Tawnies too may be affected by a prolonged dry spell. They are dependent on small mammals for food. Dry conditions will reduce the ability of female mammals to lactate, thus reducing breeding success and then reducing food for tawnies and other predators. Let's hope it doesn't come to facultative cainism: where siblings eat each other due to starvation.

We did note ironically that the tawny family home is situated immediately facing the meadow area where we have been releasing harvest mice.

This talk of the dry weather flies in the face of what's happening down in the pond where seven mallards have moved in. The once clear water is now cocoa. They're especially busy at dusk when the pond becomes a quacking Heathrow for low-flying ducks.

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