fom

Rural Living

Monthly Observations

 

What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare?  

No time to stand beneath the boughs. And stare as long as sheep and cows.  

No time to see, when woods we pass, Where squirrels hid their nuts in grass.  

No time to see, in broad daylight. Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance. And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can. Enrich that smile her eyes began.

 A poor life this if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare.

 

(W. H. Davies)

 

The Observations on these pages are those of the seasons, and the effects they have on the Fauna,

Wildlife, and Wild Birds.

They are updated as the seasons pass, with the Harshness of Winter, the Renewal of Spring,

the Fruits of Summer, and the Mellowness of Autumn

 

MONTHLY OBSERVATIONS 2006. 2007. 2012.

 

 

 

 

 

MARCH 2006. APRIL 2006. MAY 2006. JUNE 2006. JULY 2006.

 

AUGUST 2006. SEPTEMBER 2006. OCTOBER 2006. NOVEMBER 2006. DECEMBER 2006.

 

 

March 2006.

 

March 1st (St Davids Day). We are only just over three weeks from the first day of Spring, but the weather defiantly has the feel of mid winter. Many schools are closed in the area due to snowfall and the temperature has remained below freezing all day with frequent snow showers. We did a quick survey of the birds at the feeders this morning, they included Blackbirds, Blue Tits, Nuthatches, Wren, Robin, Yellowhammer, Starlings, Chaffinch's, Great Tits, Greenfinches, and a pair of Greater Spotted Woodpeckers. The snowdrops are in bloom, and have been for a couple of weeks, although we have yet to see our first daffodil. Last year the first daffodils bloomed on January 15th. 2nd. Heavy snowfalls local schools on the coast remain closed. With the ground covered by snow the ground eating birds were having difficulty finding food. We moved one of the trailers round to the feeders and put some food underneath on a cleared area of grass. At first the birds were wary of going underneath, but in a short time they were feeding. We normally only have a single robin at the feeders but today there were four present, which we thought was rather unusual as they tend to be rather territorial. Across the way in the field the ewes are tending their recently born lambs. It is amazing how resilient the young lambs are in such severe weather conditions. We went down to check the beehives and found some bees flying and a few on the ground too weak to return to the hive. They had probably been encouraged out due to the sun warming the hives between the snow showers. 3rd. Sitting by a blazing log fire as the light outside fades, heavy snow showers have started. The birds are leaving the feeders to find shelter for the night. The skies have remained clear for most of the day with good periods of sunshine, although the temperature has remained below freezing, the snow has thawed in places with the heat of the sun. I noticed as I walked down the meadow a robin making its high pitched warbling song in one of the Rowan trees, across the way in the gorse the song of other birds could be heard in the sunshine.

6th. The weather has continued to remain cold with snow. The birds have had problems finding food, we have continued to pay particular attention to ensure seed has been available for ground eating birds. We have had three male blackbirds around the feeders with the dominate one continually chasing the others off. A bonus for us has been listening to the birdsong in the periods of sunshine. 7th The temperatures have risen and a general thaw has set in. As I travelled along the top road, the summits of the Northern Snowdonia Mountains were cloaked in cloud with mist rising up out of the valleys and cwm's as the snows thawed. A couple of buzzards circled overhead, in recent days the buzzards had been circling low around the house and fields looking for prey in the snowy landscape. We seem to have seen more rabbits around in the last few days, or it could be that against the snowy background they are more easily seen, which does not bode well for them with predators above. 10th More rain and sleet this morning, as I headed to Snowdonia for a days walking on Moel Siabod. The sheep in the fields looked wet and bedraggled, and the lambs were staying close to their mothers for shelter. The hills were shrouded in mist, not a promising day for a walk. I saw a number of buzzards sitting on telegraph poles also looking rather bedraggled. After parking the car, I noticed walking into the hills, clumps of toad spawn in the marsh area. The toad can be distinguished from the frog, as it moves by walking, rather than leaping, as the frog does. It normally hibernates from October to March in dry places, such as under logs. When it emerges, it travels to its breeding pond, and fertilizes the eggs as the female lays them in a long strips. After spawning the adults leave the pond and part company. The eggs initially develop into tadpoles, which finally become toads after about fifteen weeks. The young toads leave the water in June or July. Very little wildlife was seen during the day, other than the odd crow, circling overhead on the walk in. This was probably due to the very poor weather condition. After a hot bath, a nice meal, and sitting by the fire with a wee dram writing this, I can say that even with the driving snow, and strong winds near the summit, that a good day was had.

17th The weather has continued to remain cold with snow. Coming up from Eglwysbach I saw a Brown Hare (Lepus Capensis) on the road. On my approach it searched for a way through the fence, it remained still as I approached, enabling me to get a close up view. The hare remains close to its Form during the day, normally searching for plants and berries for food at night. It is capable of running at 35mph if disturbed. The hare breeds at anytime of year, and the doe normally has three to four litters per year. Up to five leverets are produced in each litter, and after three weeks they are fully independent. The number of Brown Hares has declined in recent years, so it was interesting to see one so close on such a cold and rather bleak day. A large number of birds continue to visit the feeders. It is interesting to hear the birds singing whenever the sun shines, the air seems to be full of spring bird song, while the countryside is still in its mid winter slumber.18th Today saw a pair of Pied Wagtails around the garden, they have not visited since last year. Strimmed around the side bank in the meadow, to remove some of last years grass to allow the wild flowers to grow once the weather improves. Last year the snowdrops were out along the bank, this year they are only starting to come through with no blooms as yet. 22nd Weather wise a much better day today, with blue skies and sunshine. I took the tractor and trailer to collect some timber. Our tractor does not have the luxury of a cab, and although it was cold the sunshine made the trip enjoyable, especially looking across at the snowcapped peaks of Snowdonia. On my return journey I saw a flock of starlings(Sturnus vulgans), still in their almost black winter plumage. They were in a field close to the roadside probably searching for invertebrates in the soil, their main food source. We rarely see them in the garden, which leads me to think they have an adequate source of food in the surrounding farmland. They will probably start breeding in the next few weeks as their normal breeding season is from April to September. We have noticed over the last few days birds carrying away straw and small twigs, so obviously some nest building is already underway. We are keeping an eye on our nest boxes for any signs of interest.

26th The weather has continued to improve with daytime temperatures up to 10c. The recent cold weather does seem to have led to higher losses than normal with lambing, for some farmers, even for those lambing inside. It is however amazing how resilient lambs are and how the majority survive and grow in such poor weather conditions. The call ducks have started to lay regularly, and one duck appears to be settling on a nest. We have not known a year when the ducks have laid so late. Our Brecon Buff goose still shows no inclination to lay, and she is normally down on her nest by now. We have now sited the rest of the nest boxes for this year, and hope for some tenants. This morning we were up early as I was taking a hay baler with a friend to Pentir near Bangor. It was just after day break, as we traveled along the top road towards Llanrwst that we saw a Barn Owl (Tyto alba), sitting on a fence post at the roadside. There does not appear to be as many of these owls around as there use to be, and as a species, they have been in decline for some time. They are mainly a nocturnal creature, although some are partly diurnal (out in daylight). It is not quiet true that owls can see in the dark, but their large specially constructed eyes allow them to see in low light levels. They have extremely good hearing, and use this sense to locate prey. The toes are powerful and equipped with long sharp talons to capture prey. The Barn owl mainly roost in holes and buildings around farms. 28th Well here we are nearly at the end of the month, and although at last the hedgerows are showing some signs of spring, the season is still far behind the norm. I thought that perhaps we had just got use to the milder weather of recent years, but looking at an old book I have, Countryman's Diary published in 1953, it seemed then that the hedgerows and trees were budding, with some in leaf by now. It will be interesting to see the effect the recent cold spell will have had on insect life this coming summer. Although I am sitting here late evening updating this log, with the rain again on the window pane, it has been a fairly sunny day today. I was down the bottom of the meadow earlier where I have recently installed a nest box. A wren was inspecting the box, and for a time was perched on the top giving its loud explosive song. The wren is very vulnerable to harsh winter conditions and many often perish. We have seen a number around the garden in the last few days, so perhaps a good sign they have not fared too badly.

 

April 2006.

April 1st. GOOD NEWS. OSPREYS IN NORTH WALES. The Osprey are back in North Wales. This is the third time they have returned to Pont Croesor, near Porthmadog. The first year they nested, 2004, the clutch of eggs were lost when the nest was blown out of the tree by high winds. Last year three eggs were laid and two chicks were raised. In August 2005 the parents with their fledglings, started the long journey south to Africa. This year, the female arrived earlier this week with the male arriving yesterday. It is hoped that the female will be laying in about a month. Last year was only the second time that Ospreys have nested in Wales. The RSPB are again opening the viewing site at Pont Croesor. We visited last year, the RSPB had staff and volunteers on hand to answer questions, and there was also a video screen recording activity at the nest. Ospreys were once a common visitor to Scotland, but persecution at the turn of the century brought it to extinction in Britain. In 1955 a pair returned to nest at Loch Garten in Scotland, and were immediately protected by the RSPB, over 600 young have been raised since. Ospreys are still on the amber list, which means they still need protection for numbers to recover to an acceptable level. Its diet mainly consist of freshwater fish. The nests are added to every year, and are normally built high in pine trees. Ospreys breed from 3yrs of age, although they gain their full plumage before then.

 

3rd. Walking up the meadow at twilight the birds were still singing. The loudest song came from a robin sitting in a nearby rowan tree. The newly planted mixed native hedging has started to bud, and catkins are evident along the lane. Nature is behind this year, but there is now evidence that nature has woken from its winter slumber. Traveling down the lane today, I saw a number of birds carrying nesting materials in their beaks. Caring for a garden today down in the Conwy Valley, the daffodils were making a magnificent display, as were the primroses growing in the lawns. We are still waiting for the majority of our daffodils to flower, due to our elevation I estimate we are about a week behind houses in the Conwy Valley. 4th There was evidence that snow had fallen overnight on the higher peaks of Snowdonia, with additional snow visible on Carnedd Llwellyn. A lovely day, with sunshine and a light but cold north east wind. Lots of bird activity, with two pairs of yellowhammers in the garden. Many of the daffodils flowered today, and the primroses are making a magnificent display. Some of the call ducks have taken to nests, and are sitting on the eggs they have laid over the last couple of weeks. A couple of the Call Ducks did not return this evening when the animals were put away, so at dusk I went to check if we had any latecomers. One was waiting outside the barn, and was safely put in, the other must be nesting out. (I am keeping a log of progress on the call ducks, on the Duck and Goose page). We are concerned for the missing duck, that she has a safe nesting site, so we will have to try to locate her nest. As I walked back towards the house I could smell the smoke from the log fire indoors. There is something special, standing outside at dusk, in silence, with the stars rising in the night sky, and the smell of a log fire. It is like the curtain is closing on day and the door is opening on night. 6th The first swallows have arrived locally, and a couple of young blue tits visited the feeders today. There has been a local report of a young goldfinch found below a patio door, it was suspected that it had flown into the window, and stunned itself. After a while it was seen to recover and fly off. With the inclement weather we have experienced, it is surprising that some birds have fledged so early. 7th Looking across at the mountains this morning, a further covering of snow is evident on the higher peaks. The clouds are rolling across the summits, like a soft white veil, parting to give a glimpse of the sunlit summits, then closing again. Although it is cold the air is full of bird song with a Blackbird singing in a Welsh Oak at the top of the garden. 8th Woke early this morning to a covering of snow and a beautiful sunrise. Decided to take a walk up the lane onto some higher ground, to capture the sunrise lighting up the slopes of the Northern Snowdonia Mountains. As I walked up the lane the sheep and their lambs took a great interest in me, probably thinking I was delivering their feed after a cold night in the fields. A song thrush was singing somewhere in the gorse, and the snow in the fields glistened in the early morning sun. The sun slowly rose up the slopes of the mountains, gradually turning a cold bleak view, into a fine sunlit scene. A few pictures for the gallery, on a fine morning, then a brisk walk back for a warming cup of tea. 27th The seasons seem to have been standing still, not daring to waken, with the chill of winter extending well into the month here. On the 19th the weather began to improve with an increase in temperature to near normal seasonal levels. The blackthorn hedgerows have burst into blossom, with many later flowering daffodils bursting into flower in the lane. A Wheatear has visited the garden, the first we have seen since we have lived here. We have recently been to the Alps, and whilst there in the mountains heard a sound that was once common in Wales, that of the cuckoo. There numbers appear to have declined significantly in recent years here. Although the hedges seem to be greening, up many of the trees appear to remain dormant. 30th We have been watching the antics of a couple of Greater Spotted Woodpeckers during the last couple of days. They arrive at the nut feeders and then drop to the ground and then climb up the trunk of the conifer to the top, they keep repeating this, but the reason we are unsure of. We now have residents in four of the nest boxes, two we know to be inhabited by blue tits, the other two have nesting material in them, but we have not seen the residents. The grass is now growing and some of the wild flower plants are beginning to emerge around the margins of the fields.

 

May 2006.

May 4th. The hedgerows and verges are showing signs that spring has arrived. We have not seen such a magnificent display of Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale Webber) in recent years. The Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis L), are now disappearing to be replaced with early bluebells, and the Oxlip Paigle (Primular elatior). There are also patches of yellow Woolly Crowfoot (Ranunculus lanuginosus), with the green of the early grasses giving a backdrop to the blooms of the wild flowers. The Blackthorn at the bottom of the meadow is in blossom, with the yellow flowers of the gorse on the hillside, giving a backdrop to the white of the blackthorn. We have seen a number of hares around the fields in the last couple of weeks. They have been in decline for a number of years, but perhaps their numbers may be slowly increasing again. A couple of Goldfinches have started to regularly visit the feeders, sitting in the conifers warbling their prolong song. The Wheatear continues to visit the feeders, and we hope he stays for a while yet. The weather has been warm and sunny, with the buzzards hovering above the fields, at times quiet low. May 6th We walked in the wood in the valley today. With the tree canopy not being in full leaf yet, shafts of sunlight illuminated the shade of the woods. The wood was full of bird song, the ground was covered in the white flowers of wild garlic, and the first blooms of the bluebell. The air was scented with the smell of wild garlic, and that damp smell of moisture from the winter rains. We also looked for the Canada Geese which have normally arrived in large numbers by now. This year we have only seen two pairs so far, we normally see them fly over in formation heading to the lake on the estate in the valley. May 9th What a glorious time early morning is this time of year. The sun was filtering through the clouds, with the overnight rain glistening on the grass. In the early morning light, the blackthorn, leafless, but in full blossom, gave the appearance that the branches were covered in snow. So much bird song, that it was difficult to identify individual birds, the sheep calling for their lambs, yet not one human sound of modern day life. I stood and watched some young bunnies running in and out of the gorse on the hillside playing in the early morning light.

13th May The Swifts are around the house looking for nesting sites. I went in the shed and found two swifts inside the shed. I am not sure who was more startled me or the swifts as they flew out. The last couple of days have been cloudy with some rain showers but rather humid with some thunder. The humid conditions are such that you can almost see the plants grow, flowers bloom almost before your eyes, and the trees that had little or no greenery on them, are now in full leaf. 21st May We have had 46mm of rain since the 17th, with strong winds till the 19th. It is a shame, that after the trees have held back their blossoms due to earlier cold weather, that their magnificent displays are being destroyed by the wind. Some of the shrubs have managed to survive intact with the Broom (Cytisus) giving a particularly good display. Last evening we went for a walk down the meadow just after the rain finished. The soil in the vegetable garden dark after the heavy rain, but making the green of the young vegetables stand out boldly. The rain dripped off the young foliage of the trees, and in the silence we could hear the droplets falling to the ground. With the backdrop of a mist across the fields it gave an eerie feel to the scene. 26th With low pressure dominating the weather, rain has been the main feature of the weather, with only occasional sunny periods. We have seen evidence of overnight snowfall on some of the higher peaks of Northern Snowdonia, and the weather remains below average for the time of year. Large number of birds having been visiting the nut feeders, but very few appear interested in the seed feeders. With the cold overnight tempetures and damp conditions we hope this years fledglings are not suffering. A pair of Yellowhammers are regular visitors, as are the Greater Spotted Woodpeckers. The swifts and swallows are here in abundance, and if we are sitting in the meadow they fly that close, you think they are going to collide with you. The Mayflower is out in the valley, with some magnificent displays, although the Hawthorn is holding back it's "show" here for a few days yet.

 

June 2006.

June 3rd. At last the summer has arrived for a few days. Sitting outside in the early morning sun, listening to "Sounds of the Sixties" on BBC Radio 2, brings back the ambience of earlier more relaxed times. Looking across to our neighbours fields the sheep and cattle are grazing peacefully. With the lifting of the export beef ban, it is nice to see more cattle in the fields again. The grass in the meadow is growing, with numerous wild flowers evident. Later in the summer this will be cut for hay, as winter feed for our friends sheep, when they come in for lambing next year. The Mountain Ash (Rowan), is in bloom with its white blossom contrasting with the vibrant green of the leaves of early summer, the branches nodding in the gentle breeze. The Genista (Broom), is in flower in the lane, giving a beautiful yellow glow to the lane side. The swallows are sitting on the telephone wires, the blue-black plumage on their backs varying with the creamy breast plumage. The male bird joining in with the general birdsong of the other birds in the surrounding trees and hedgerow. Every now and again the swallows take flight, swooping low over the meadow, feeding on the flying insects that are hovering above the long grass. A pair of Collared Doves have taken up residence in the Hawthorn tree by the front gate, and regularly make a noisy entrance or exit from the nest, we believe they must have young and are regularly leaving to find food. June 7th The last few days has seen the tempetures increasing, with many trees now in blossom. Looking into the long grass on the verges of the field which are never cut, the ground is amass with crawling insects. The warmth has seen an increase in the number of flying insects above the grass in the meadow. These are supplying a regular food source for the birds to feed their youngsters on. The Greater Spotted Woodpecker which regularly visits the nut feeder, has also been seen pecking at the telephone pole. On closer inspection numerous small insects can be seen in the cracks and crevasses.

We have recently received an e-mail from Richard and Marlys Hjort, who live in East Central Minnesota USA. They share many of our interests including phrenology. Their house is situated in 51/2 acres of old growth woodland, and they harvest the wood for their wood stove. Numerous nest boxes are on their property, which at present have birds in residence. They are weather observers and have been making climate recordings for the State Climate Office for the last 36yrs, they also submit reports for the National Weather Service in the US. They have agreed to supply some observations from their part of the world, which will I am sure prove interesting in comparison with those here.

The last week in May had tempetures that varied from 35f to 95f, this was +1 warmer & 1" dryer than normal. So far this year moisture is 4.5 below normal, with dryer than normal soil. Tomatoes are beginning to bloom as are the snap peas, with the March planted lettuce ready for picking. The first American Robins have fledged, and Grey Catbirds are feeding their young in the hedgerow. Purple Martins have ten nests with eggs plus four more in the making. Eastern Bluebirds have fledged, and are sitting on their second clutch of eggs. There are also Tree Swallows and Great Crested Flycatchers on eggs. The Black-Caped Chickadees, which Richard tells me are akin to our Coal Tits have fledged from three boxes that border their yard, and these will nest again this year. There is sufficient wild food for the birds, including Chokecherry, Blackcherry, Hawthorn, and Nannyberry, which are all setting now. Monarch Butterflies are laying eggs in the Milkweeds, and also seen are Swallowtails, Admirals, and Sulfurs. They also have many species of Dragonflies.

As in our part of the world, nature has caste off the slumber of winter, and is now frantic in its bloom of early summer.

June 8th Sitting outside tonight at twilight we have seen Pipistrelle Bats for the first time this year, twisting and turning erratically amongst the trees. We had a number roosting under the wood cladding at the side of the house last year, and sitting below the cladding in late evening you could hear the bats behind the cladding. June 16th The first cut of silage has been made in the fields, the landscape now looking like a patchwork quilt, with some fields looking green some brown, some yellow, and some beige, changing the seasons landscape. The normally quiet lanes have tractors and trailers carrying the harvested silage back to the farms for feed for the livestock in the coming winter.

June 17th After a very dry start to the month we finally have some rain today. Even when life may not be dealing you the best hand, nature has a way of lifting your spirits. Last night we sat out watching the Pipistrelle Bats leaving their roost in the warmth of the late evening, feeding on insects on the wing. We counted twenty two leaving the roost, we feel quiet privileged having them in residence.

Pipistrelle Bats.

They are the most abundant of British bats. There are two main species, the soprano pipistrelle and the common pipistrelle, a third less common species is the nathusius' pipistrelle, which is quite rare. They measure between 3.3cm and 4.8cm long, with a wingspan of 18cm to 25cm.

The tiny pipistrelle has a huge appetite. They can eat around 3000 midges, mosquitoes, and other small flies in a single night. We believe that the long grass and wild flowers in the meadow which encourage insects also encourage the bats to reside here, as they have ready source of food.

Further information on Bats is available on the Bat Conservation Website website

June 22nd. This morning at breakfast the Greater Spotted Woodpecker brought her youngster to the peanut feeder. The youngster perched on the side of the feeder while mum pecked some pieces of nut from the feeder, then fed them to her offspring. After a while the youngster tired of being perched, dropped to the ground, mum then continued to feed her offspring by flying backwards and forwards to the feeder. I managed to get one image, sometimes you see a magic moment in nature, and for us this was one. The sheep are now being sheared, and you can hear the ewes and their lambs calling, trying to find each other with the lambs not recognizing their newly sheared mothers. The hay is nearly ready for cutting, and we will be helping with haymaking over the next couple of weeks. Haymaking is very dependent on good weather, and we will be keeping our fingers crossed in the coming days. The satisfaction of having the hay baled, and seeing it stored away in the barn for winter is difficult to describe. June 27th The young Greater Spotted Woodpecker has continued to visit the nut feeder. He holds onto the feeder, but has not learnt to actually peck at the nuts, he then flies away again. Today we have been cutting logs for the wood store. The smell from the old oak logs as we split them, reminds us that although we are in summer, it will not be that many months before the evenings draw in, and we will be sitting beside the log fire, listening to the wind and rain outside in the winter darkness. June 28th The first of the hay is cut, and with the warm weather it should be ready for baling in the next few days. The honeysuckle is in bloom in the lane side hedgerow adding its scent to that of the other hedgerow fauna. The dog rose is also making a show, the pinks and whites of its blooms contrasting with the deep greens of the hedgerow.

 

 

June 30th. The hay in the fields has turned from the green of cut grass, to the brown of hay. The month has seen nature catch up from the start of the month, with the improvements in the weather. On the way over the top road this afternoon, we were surprised to see a Lapwing sitting in the middle of the road. Although they are quiet a common species in upland and coastal areas, this is the first time we have seen one of these birds locally. Collecting strawberries in the vegetable garden this afternoon, we saw a number of Common Field Grasshoppers (chorthippus brunneus). They tend to lay out in the sun to warm up, before they can become active. The male chirps during the months of June to November to attract females. He achieves this by rubbing pegs on his hind leg against larger veins on his forewing, a process called stridulating. It seems that at this time of year that everyday you go outside you see something new.

Richard and Marlys Hjort tell me that in East Minnesota USA weather wise June was very much around the norm. Rainfall was 126mm bring the total rainfall for 2006 to 348mm, the normal expected rainfall for the first six months of the year. The average temperature was 20c, with a normal average of 19.4c. With the good weather the vegetable garden yields are good with, green beans, corrigetties, lettuce, broccoli, onions, and currants being harvested. The Basswood trees are in full bloom, and very fragrant. The tree swallows have just fledged, with the Purple Martins still feeding their young, at present there are a total of ten Purple Martin nests. Just as our Greater Spotted Woodpeckers are bringing their young to the feeders, the Downey Woodpeckers are doing the same at Richard and Marlys feeders. Richard and Marlys grow Milk Weed, Dill, Parsley, and Carrots to encourage Butterflies to lay their eggs on. A good year so far, with the promise of more to come.

July 2006.

July 2nd. Early July is the time in our part of the world for hay making. The sheep have been off the hay field since May, to allow the meadow to give a decent crop. There is something timeless about this business. Although the art is much more mechanized than times past, the ingredients of good hay making remain the same. This rural task is totally reliant on the weather, the decision of when to cut, when to turn, and when to bale is one of the major talking points in rural households during this time. There is something unique, walking into a field, bathed in heavy sunlight, being met by the smell of crisp, sweet hay. The weather has been kind over the last few days. The green freshly cut grass had turned to the mellow colour of hay ready to be baled. Haymaking is also a social event with egg sandwiches and cold drinks in plenty for everybody helping. With the final turning of the hay in late morning, the hay had been rowed up by early afternoon ready for baling. The forecast was for thunderstorms from late afternoon, so it was all hands to the pumps to ensure the hay was in before the rain. As the hay was baled and the bales were transported from the fields thunder could be heard in the distance. By 4pm the last bales had been stored in our friends barn, and it was time for a welcome cup of tea while the children played around the newly stacked hay. By early evening the thunderstorms had arrived with a heavy deluge of rain. There was something very satisfying, sitting inside watching the rain tumberling down, knowing the first field of this years hay is safely stored.

 

July 8th Clearing some of the fern today around the verges of the meadow we were amazed at the amount of insect live living in the unmown grass. There were a huge number of grasshoppers, small spiders, moths, and numerous other insects. We had not seen such a large number of insects in the verges before, and are not sure whether this year is a particularly good year for insects, or if the way we are managing the meadow is encouraging more insect life. We hope it is the later, because this shows that with the right habitat it is possible to get back to the levels of insect population of decades past. This in turn encourages birds and other wildlife that feeds on the insect into our locality.

July 16th Earlier in the week our friend cut the hay in our meadow, and I have been turning the hay to dry it ready for baling. Walking through the hay in the morning sunshine, with the overnight dew drying, the sweet smell of the new mown hay building in the morning sun, has a timeless memory about it. With the hay cut numerous butterflies have been seen including the Gatekeeper (Pyronia Tithonus), Painted Lady (Cynthia Cardui), Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais Urticae), and the Red Admiral (Vanessa Atalanta). We are also aware that we have a number of Common Froghopper (Philaenus Spumarius). on the shrubs in the garden. We have seen the frothy secretions on the plants, which they use to protects themselves from predators until they are fully formed. Turning into the lane yesterday a juvenile hare was sitting in the middle of the road. It was surprised to see me and remained still. I thought it may have been injured, and got out of the car to approach it. I got within a couple of yards of it when it suddenly bolted down the lane, and through the hedge. It amazes me how fast they can move.

The Pipistrelle bats are very active on the recent very warm evenings. We have now counted thirty two bats leaving their roost during the late evening, some are noticeably smaller than others so we feel they must be youngsters. They appear to be feeding on the Midges (Chironomus Plumosus), which can be seen flying above the cut hay in the meadow. We have also seen numerous moths at twilight, and we intend in the coming week to survey which species we have here.

July 17th With the good weather we have baled the hay today with our friends, the meadow now looking brown and parched. We have seen the Cabbage White butterfly in the vegetable garden today, so will be keeping an eye out for any eggs layed on the brassicas. The berries are beginning to form on the Mountain Ash, and by autumn will be ready for the resident bird population.

July 26th The hot weather has continued with gorse fires on the hills reported in many areas. The fields look parched and bare due to lack of moisture, and the hot sun. There has been a bumper hay crops this year. But there are concerns that with the lack of rain the grass is not recovering, and there will be insufficient grass for autumn feed for the livestock. This could mean that hay and silage will have to be fed earlier than normal, which could lead to shortages in the winter. Many of the plants are wilting, and during the last few days we have noticed many of the mature trees in the lane are begining to shed their leaves. We are seeing more butterflies, and this must be one of the best years for butterflies in recent times. They seem to particularly like the Lavender (Lavandula), and Butterfly Bush (Buddleia). With the good weather the swallows are rearing a third brood, which we have not noticed before, and the juveniles can be seen of an evening feeding on the many insects in the air. We notice that during the day they feed high, and during the evening feed low. This must be to do with the air currents carrying the insects higher or lower. Many of the birds are now losing their plumage, and with the end of the nesting season, and no territory to protect, there is less birdsong. Most evenings I ride over the hills on my bicycle. Following the heat of the day the scent of the different plants and trees is a joy as you cycle through the lanes. The heat of the day is held in some spots due to the vegetation, whilst in others you can feel the cooling breeze of evening. It is also surprising how many insects collide with you, an indication of what a good year this has been for insects, and in turn good for those birds and animals further up the food chain.

July 30th With some rain over the last couple of days the plants and trees appear to be recovering, although further significant rain will be required before we lose all the signs of the hot dry spell we have experienced. With the rain and cooler conditions many more birds have been visiting the feeders.

St Croix River Eastern Minnesota at much lower level than normal due to July drought

Richard and Marlys from East Minnesota tell me that July has been an extremely dry month there, with only 4.2cm of rain, compared with the average of 10.5cm. This has led to wild fires in the north of the State. The highest temperature in July was 37.8c on two consecutive days. The first couple of days in August has seen some rainfall. Harvest wise the first tomatoes have been picked, along with red potatoes, green peppers, cabbage, and muskmelon, with only excess to sell at the gate of cucumbers. . As here the birds are quieter, with the purple martins having fledged, and the tree swallows only flying high in the skies. "A lonely time of year".

August 2006

August 12th The temperatures have on average remained below the norm, over the first couple of weeks of August. The grasses remain brown, and the grazing has not improved. The weeds do seem to have benefited from the dry spell, flourishing with the recent rainfall above the blades of grass. This is probably due to them being much more deep rooted than the grass. The lane side vegetation is brown, with some of the ferns also showing signs of water starvation. The hedgerows, and trees are also showing signs of leaf loss. With the cooler conditions we are not seeing the same number of butterflies as before. The birds are emptying the feeders quickly, which must be a sign of less natural food available. We have a buzzard that can be seen sitting on the same telephone pole every afternoon. On further inspection we found that the grass near the pole had been flattened like a path through to the field for small mammals. He must obviously be an intelligent buzzard, knowing that if he sits there long enough will get a meal.

August 20th The weather remains unseasonable cool and dull. The branches of the Rowan Trees are ladened with bunches of bright red berries, contrasting with the rather dull green leafs of late summer. The wild blackcurrant's on the lane side have a good crop of berries forming, but need some warm sunny weather to ripen, ready for picking. With the cool weather numerous birds are visiting the feeders, including Blue Tits, Great Tits, Greenfinches, Yellow Hammers, Sparrows, Wagtails, and Blackbirds. At times queues seem to form, waiting to get onto the feeders, with the Blackbirds and Wagtails below, waiting for food to fall to the ground. We have not seen many Swallows over the last few days, and believe they are begining to migrate south. The grazing has not improved, and warm sunshine is needed to get the grass to start to grow. Some farms are having to feed some of the bumper harvest of hay cut earlier in the summer, as there is insufficient grazing for livestock.

August 26th Taking a walk today in the woods at Dawn, the ground is in places becoming waterlogged with the rain of recent days. The grass and plants are recovering, with the new growth giving a lushness to the woodland floor. There was evidence that autumn has set in. With a light wind in the tree tops, the trees were starting to shed their leaves. Many leaves have turned from the lush green of spring to the curled up brown texture of autumn. As we past the pheasant pens the population within are of an age to be released, and in the next few days, following release will be found in large numbers around the local lanes.We were amazed at the number of young blue tits that were busying themselves in the tree tops. We have noticed significant numbers of young birds on the feeders, and have been surprised how young some are so late in the summer. We have heard reports locally of young fledglings being found dead. We can only think that with the warm July the birds were encouraged to produce a late brood, and with the unseasonable cool, wet, August they are having problems surviving. Yesterday afternoon we had the company of two juvenile robins, their red breasts just begining to feather up, and still a little unsure whether to join us for a feed of worms as we harvested some potatoes. The red berries have formed on the hawthorn trees, contrasting with the brown of the hawthorn leaves and dieing ferns below. The birds are beginning to feast on the berries of the hawthorn and mountain ash.

Field notes from Richard and Marlys in East Minnesota USA. Total rainfall for August was 18.87 compared with normal average 10.82, with a year to date rainfall of 58, compared with the average of 55.72. The mean temperature was 21c compared with an average mean of 20.6c. As here in Wales the crops have recovered well after the hot dry July, but the tomatoes and peppers have suffered with the blossom falling off due to the hot dry conditions. Butterflies are still very much in evidence, with Swallow Tails laying eggs on the dill, carrots, parsley, and parsnips. The Baltimore Orioles migrated on September 5th, with the Warbler migration, being the best in years. With autumn now with us the spinnach, lettuce and beets of autumn have been planted. I find it very interesting how lately the weather has so closely mirrored ours in Wales.

September 2006

Bee on Corn Flower

September 10th The mellow colours of autumn are becoming evident in the woodland and hedgerows. The young swallows are gathering on the telephone lines getting ready for their long journey south to warmer climes. Walking in the hills the purple of the heather covers the mountainside, with the yellowing of the bracken contrasting with the smoldering orange-tawny colours of the receding summer grasses. The young pheasants have been released from the pens in the valley, and they gather on the roads impeding the progress of the local motorists. The local gamekeeper told me that if you continue forward at 15mph, they will move without colliding with you, having tried this it seems to work. The same can't be said for the renegade black sheep in the lane. It remains in the roadside undergrowth, and then pops out just as you pass, it seems to have suicidal tendency, but has survived since early summer. Fungi can be found amongst the early morning dew laden grass. with the harvested fresh mushrooms making a welcome addition to Sunday morning breakfast. Fungi in MeadowThe clear air gives excellent visibility of the night sky with both the plough, and milky way being clearly seen, and by day has given high definition to the mountain peaks of Snowdonia. Nature is starting to prepare for the challenges of winter, allowing new observations of natures wonders.

September 24th The later part of September has seen the autumnal hues of autumn set in. Gone is the frantic renewal of nature, seen in the spring and early summer. The restful moods of high summer are past, with many of the summer visitors having left on their migratory journey south. Natures larder of autumn fruits are now being gathered by wildlife, getting ready to meet the rigors of winter. The fruits of the Hawthorn and Mountain Ash prove a feast for the birds, with much of the excess fruit falling onto the lane, in the winds, giving a reddish coloring to the tarmac under the trees, contrasting with the brown of the dead leafs, heaped up by the winds on the lane side. A damp atmosphere pervades , with the dew and low lying mists on the meadow during the early part of the day, returning in time with the silence of dusk, which creeps forever earlier, as the season recedes.

 

 

Richard and Marlys in East Minnesota USA have found that September in their part of the world was colder and wetter than normal, and the cold weather has continued into the first half of October. On the 12th October the temperature dropped to -5.56c (what Richard calls, "a hard black killing frost"). This marked the end of this years growing season. The frost was welcomed by the parsnips, and the cabbage, kale, broccoli, and lettuce continue to be harvested, and the carrots are ready to be covered. Two bu of Buttercup Squash are in dry storage, and the sauerkraut is made. Richard will be harvesting, cutting, and splitting dry wood now for next years fuel. Most of the summer birds have now headed south, with the Hermit Thrush being one of the last to go. The winter visitors are now arriving in numbers, with twenty five Dark Eyed Juno's (Snow Birds) seen under one feeder. Richard has now erected the snow measuring equipment, ready for his daily reports to the US National Weather Services. As here in Wales we have the winter season to look forward to with all its challenges for nature.

October 2006

October 3rd Hundreds of Starlings have been gathering on the telephone lines along the lane just before dusk. It is suggested that starlings once stopped the chimes of Big Ben when so many landed on the minute hand one evening the clock could not strike nine. Many starlings migrate from Eastern Europe to the UK for winter, although our visitors are probably local birds, gathering before flying to the local woodlands, to roost for the night. The starlings are a very good indication that the chillier autumn nights have arrived, as they gather together for safety and warmth. Last year I went for an early morning walk in local woodland, and was surprised that although in evening they arrive in one big flock, in the morning they leave in small groups to forage in the local fields for insects. Heavy rain has fallen today, leaving large puddles in the surrounding lanes, although the rain has now stopped it is still windy, and chilly enough for our first log fire of the winter. Sitting by the warmth of the log fire, listening to the wind howling outside seems most agreeable, and relaxing.

October 7th The weather has remained cool and showery over the last few days, although the skies have cleared by dusk giving a lovely starlit display in the heavens, as we walked down the meadow. We have not had the normal magnificent autumnal display of the tree foliage changing to its autumn colours. Many trees have lost their leaves following the hot dry weather experienced during the summer, although others have held onto their foliage, which has yet to gain its autumnal hue. The mountain ash which always seems to drop its leaves early, and is well suited to our elevated and more exposed location, has fared well during the recent strong winds. The Oaks, and Beech trees which still retain their leafs have not fared so well, and on a few occasions fallen branches have blocked the lane. These branches have been quickly removed, and will supply logs for the fire in future winters. The lane side grass continues to recede, and the bracken dies back. Now that the birds have abandoned their summer nesting sites, it is quiet common to meet a neighbour cutting their field side hedges when traveling around the lanes.

Lobelia in full bloom 24th October

October 14th Many of the birds have returned to the feeders. We have not seen any signs of the virus that has been killing small birds in other areas (RSPB Website for further details). All the feeders have been cleaned to try to reduce any risk of spreading infection. The nuthatch has become a regular visitor again, together with the resident tits, and finches. With the season of mist and mellowness upon us, an early morning walk down the lane, just as the sun rises, is rewarded with the morning song of the blackbird, thrush and robin. The heavy dew laden roadside grass shows evidence of the nocturnal passing of badgers, hedgehogs, and other night time visitors. Looking across to the west, the morning mist lays low in the valley, with the upper slopes and peaks of the mountains standing out clearly. May we all continue to enjoy the priceless privilege of being here.

October 24th The clear crisp coolness of evening, reminds us that summer has gone and the longest day is far behind us. The night skies are ablaze with stars, and the Milky Way is clearly visible. The Beach Tree, which retain their leaves deep into the winter, rustle in the light breeze, and an owl can be heard across in the Oak Trees. A couple of nights ago, an owl was seen to swoop low over the meadow, in a short headlong plunge, its wings up and back, picking up a small mammal in its talons, and then lifting up into the trees on the hillside behind the house. We have seen or heard little of the owls for the last few months, but they are back now. During the day the buzzards are seen and heard overhead, with a couple of juveniles from this years hatch in evidence. After a few minutes they begin to be antagonized by crows, and move on further down the valley and out of sight.

Rose Hips and Flowering Ivy in the HedgerowOctober 30th With the high winds of the last few days, many of the trees have lost their leaves, it seems, without the normal magnificent display of golden's and browns seen in other years. The Crane fly(Tipula Paludosa) more commonly known as daddy long-legs, that have been seen around the house, drawn by artificial light, have now died away. The larvae, more commonly known as leatherjacket's will now survive the winter in the soil, except those that are taken by rooks, crows, and other birds, searching for food in the harsh winter soil. The Garden Spiders (Aranea Diadematus) are very busy, spinning their traditional webs around the woodshed, capturing the small flies that fly around the shed roof, that has been warmed by the autumn sun. There is still a rich harvest of berries in the hedgerows and on the trees, which the birds are feeding on. The Starlings are gathering in ever larger numbers, and you can hear the many hundreds of wings fluttering in the silence, and they swoop past overhead. The Hazel Nuts (Corylus Avellana), and Acorns (Quercus Pedunculata), can be found scattered under the trees in the meadow, with the squirrels (Sciurus Carolinensis) collecting them for their winter store. The clocks have now gone back, with darkness coming early. Tonight with the wind howling outside, sitting by the open fire, with the smell of mature logs burning in the grate, we know that winter is not far away.

 

 

November 2006

Sheep on Cold Autumn Day

November 3rd Woke this morning to the first ground frost of autumn. Walking through the garden and down to the meadow in the clear, fresh morning air, evidence of our nocturnal visitors were to be seen. The route taken by Badgers could be seen. There were numerous scratching's in the grass, where they had been digging, seeking insects in the soil, for a night time meal. There was also signs of the passage of Starlings Gathering Late Autumn Afternoonhedgehogs, and other smaller creatures. Gone is the birdsong of spring and early summer, as the birds attract a mate, or to protect their territory. This morning the only sound was that of a pair of Magpies squabbling in a Mountain Ash, on the hillside behind the house. Around mid day in the warm sunshine, I noticed a number of Bees on the flowering Ivy. Later in the day groups of Starlings congregated on the power lines, a late afternoon ritual seen every afternoon in recent days. Although we have seen an increase in the number of birds visiting the feeders, we are not seeing the numbers we normally expect when the weather turns cold. The birds that are missing are the smaller birds, and we hope that this is not due to the virus that I mentioned last month. With dusk comes the silence of evening, with only the sounds of grazing sheep in the cold autumn air.

November 7th The ancient rhythm of nature continues. A couple of Pied Wagtails (Motacilla alba) have become regular visitors in the last couple of days. Their black and white plumage, and constant tail bobbing makes it a very distinctive visitor. After spending much of the daylight hours with us, they can be seen making their way across to some old reed beds in a nearby field. Records in some of the old publications state, that by autumn, the Pied Wagtail would migrate to Southern England. Last year they stayed around all winter, even during the severe weather of February and March. The redness of the morning sunrise reflects strongly on the brown bracken on the hillside, turning the bracken deep red. A couple of buzzards circle above calling on the light morning breeze. There are large numbers of pheasants on the roads at present, and some of these are inevitably killed by traffic. The buzzards along with the crows and magpies feast on the carrion of pheasant left overnight on the top road, a rich harvest before the rigors of winter. Bees can still be seen on the late flowering shrubs, and although it is warm in the sunshine, there is a cold bite in the wind. I never fail to marvel at the ever changing mountain scenery. Travelling over the top road in the late afternoon just before sunset, cloud was rolling below the peak of Moel Siabod in the valley towards Pen y Gwyrd. From the eastern side of the Conwy Valley this gave the impression of a long ridge line running from Moel Siabod towards Snowdon, above this thick layer of grey rolling cloud the sky was covered in an orchid pink sunset. A truly magnificent panorama of beauty.

November 11th Sitting this evening by the fire, the wind howls outside and the rain is beating against the window panes. It is as if to remind us that winter is arriving. Although the nights are becoming long, dark, and cold, and this will continue for at least another four months, there are still many contrasts. The berries on the hawthorn have now turned a deep maroon in colour. Where the hawthorn tree is prolific, this gives a beautiful colouring to an otherwise drab landscape. Walking through the woods on a recent wet morning with the mist enveloping the surroundings, the atmosphere was magical. The golden leaves carpet the woodland floor, with droplets of water dripping off the remaining leaves on the trees. The woodland is silent as the birds fatigued from mating and the raising of offspring, rest for the rigors ahead. Walking in this silence you can smell the damp and decay, but this decay is home to many small insects living in the bark and rotten fallen trees and branches. In turn these help sustain the small woodland mammals, and birds. The starlings gather in ever increasing numbers, and from mid afternoon these massive flocks swarm above the house and surrounding fields. In the morning these same flocks repeat the display, and are joined by flocks of crows. Although there are many theories as to why birds gather in such numbers this time of year, I still watch marveling at the spectacle and wonder at the truth.

Tal y Cafn Bridge, River Conwy

Conwy River looking downstream from Tal y Cafn

November 14th Being a rather drab and wet afternoon, and not being able to finish the jobs in the garden, I decided to travel down to the Conwy River near Tal y Cafn. From our home this entails a journey down a number of single track roads, with hedges on both sides, often presenting the opportunity to come across wildlife. The mountains of Northern Snowdonia were cloaked in mist, with thicker cloud hanging around the summits. The wildlife and birds must have been sheltering from the elements, and I saw nothing until almost arriving at the Level Crossing gates by Tal y Cafn Station, when a Heron flew across the road directly in front of me. A number of these are resident along the river, and these massive all grey birds, with trailing legs, and black and white head drawn into their neck, are a regular sight. Feeding on fish, amphibians, and the occasional small mammal, this is an ideal environment for them. The tide was out, and the mud on the river bank was exposed. A number of Oystercatchers were feeding on the mud banks. A flock of geese flew overhead in the leaden skies, moving further inland. The only other birds in evidence was a male Blackbird, and a Robin perched on a nearby fence post. With the rain falling, and the mist increasing, time to return home.

 

November 18th Overnight the first snows of winter have fallen on the mountains of Northern Snowdonia, giving the summits their first vision of winter. Ice pellet showers continued to fall at our elevation throughout the morning, bringing an increase of visitors to the feeders. The Greater Spotted Woodpecker returned to the nut feeder this morning, probably due to the reduction of insect food available in decayed wood in the locality. With the high winds of the last few nights most of the trees have lost their leaves, only the beech and oak retaining their golden hue.

November 27th Yesterday saw long periods of sunshine and blue skies. An opportunity to cut some logs for the fire, and to catch up with some work in the vegetable garden. With the increase in temperature a couple of Red Admiral butterflies were fluttering around the leeks, very late in the season for them to be seen. A Robin sat on the fence, waiting to feed on any worms that appeared as I turned the soil over. With Atlantic low pressure fronts continually moving across North Wales, the weather over recent days has consisted of high winds and heavy rain. The lanes have large areas of standing water, and most of the fallen leaves from the trees lay as a brown wet mush, heaped, where the wind has blown them. We are still not seeing the number of birds that normally frequent the feeders, we hope that it will not be too long before our regular guests return. Tonight the winds have returned and rain again beats against the windows. The dogs that until recently wanted to lay outside, are now laying inside the warm cosy confines of the house.

Richard has sent the latest observations from Minnesota USA. Richard and Marlys have experienced a cold November, but temperatures have increased above the norm to the high 40f in early December, and lows just below freezing. The lakes around their home are frozen with 4 to 6 inches of ice, and bare soil is frozen to a depth of 12 inches, but thawing from the bottom up. No snow has fallen, compared with 7 inches having fallen by early December last year. The birds are enjoying the mild weather, and the Snowy Owl has been seen in the area for the first time. This is probably due to the good food supplies being available during the breeding season in Canada and Alaska, which has led to large broods being fledged. As here, the seed catalogues are starting to arrive and the time is here to start to plan for next year.

December 2006

Rivers in Flood 15th December 2006

December 5th The gales of November have continued into December. Nearly all the trees have lost their leaves, and even the Beech trees have lost their summer cloak. In recent days we have experienced severe gales to force 9, with branches being torn from trees littering the lanes and verges. The accompanying heavy rain has saturated the fields, with excess water running into the lanes, adding to the standing water in the roads. The buzzards normally seen hovering over the fields, sit rain sodden on the telephone lines and fence posts, looking for any small mammals not taking shelter from the incessant rain. The flocks of Starlings continue to feed in the fields, finding the heavy soil easy to forage in. The valley bottoms have suffered even more with many fields along the Conwy River under water, and the Conwy Valley Railway has suspended services due to flooding. The birds are busy on the feeders, with us having to regularly replenish supplies. Very little other wildlife have been evident in the wet and at times wild weather.

December 12th Yesterday the winds and rain cleared to give colder temperatures and clear skies. We have a resident male Pheasant that calls each morning to eat the seed that the wild birds have dropped from the feeders. He has escaped the shooting parties that have been active in the valley, and appears to be seeking sanctuary here with us. They are a foolish bird that have the habit of flying in front of vehicles in the lanes, lets hope this one has enough sense to remain here, and not return to the area of the hatchery in the valley. When collecting logs from the wood shed yesterday my attention was drawn to movement in River after days of heavy rainfall. 15th December 2006some old bales of straw in the corner. Then above the straw on a wooden post I saw two Pygmy Voles scurrying along the framework of the shed. This morning the skies are clouding up again, and the winds are begining to increase, with more heavy rain expected on the already rain sodden ground.

Flooded Farmland in the Conwy Valley

December 15th With low pressure continuing to dominate the weather in Wales and the rest of the UK, rain and wind are the main factors influencing nature and the wildlife. Much of the farmland along the Conwy River is flooded and seabirds, wild ducks, and herons can be seen feeding on the submerged fields. The silence of our rural environment is broken by the noise of the torrent of water rushing down the river across the field. This normally quiet meandering river being swollen by all the excess water running off the land which is unable to cope with any further rainfall. Wherever you travel rivers are in spate, with flooding on many roads. High winds last night led to the power failing, and our generator had to be brought into service for the first time this winter. Waking this morning we found the wind had receded, and the rain fell in a more calm and measured fashion. The wild birds which for days had clung to the feeders as they fed to survive the harsh conditions, seemed visibly more relaxed as they settled on the feeders and bare branches of the trees and shrubs. High Pressure is forecast for the coming days bringing a calmer if colder feel to the weather.

December 17th With high pressure arriving over North Wales, the weather patterns have changed, with cooler temperatures and some sunshine. Collecting some leeks from the vegetable patch for this evenings stew, it was nice to feel the warmth of the sun again, although the hands soon become chilled with the colder ground temperatures. This morning we were surprised to find few birds around the feeders, we then saw a pair of magpies by the trees feeding on some spilt corn on the grass. I chased them off, and within seconds the small birds were appearing from the surrounding trees to feed on the nuts and seed. There has been a scattering of snow on the peaks of Snowdonia, giving the high gullies and cliffs a rather sinister presence on the mountain scenery.

December 22nd The Winter Solstice is upon us, the official start of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. Today has seen the temperatures dip below freezing with mist cloaking the hillsides. The bird feeders are being refilled twice a day, with numerous birds visiting the feeders in the cold still air. In recent weeks a walk in the woods has given shelter and refuge from the strong winds and driving rain. Now the woods are a place of stillness and mist rising from the woodland floor. The leaves which have laid thick on the ground in recent weeks, are now being attacked by fungi and moulds, turning them into leaf mould in the damp of early winter. This together with twigs, branches, rotting trunks, dead plants, animals, and animal droppings, adds to the fertile layer that feeds and supports life in the wood. Although it appears that the woodland is void of life, upon closer investigation squirrels can be found searching for acorns, along with Jays, Wood Pigeons, Pheasants, Rooks, Mice, and Voles. Very few acorns are left to germinate. In the leaf mould can be found many invertebrates, some hibernating, others just sheltering from the cold. Looking into a rotting tree trunk we found wood lice, spiders, beetles, and beetle larvae. The walk back through the lanes, gaining height to home saw the temperature dropping further in the thickening mist, and frost returning to the fields and verges.

December 31st Another year closes with one of the mildest autumns on record. Low pressure has dominated the weather with high winds and heavy rain. The wind has brought a harvest of fire wood from the broken branches of trees, and the ground is sodden from the continuing rain. With the cool moist climate the mosses are actively growing. The north facing side of trees show an abundant covering of fresh growth, as do the piles of rotting wood left on the verges of the meadow as habitat for insects. Jays have been seen collecting the acorns from the Welsh Oaks, they can carry up to nine acorns in their specially large oesophagus, although four is a more normal number. They hoard the acorns for stores throughout the winter. The food sources in the field for the starlings must be poor, as they have become regular visitors to the feeders. Some have been seen hanging from the nuts, which appears rather comical, as they do not seem to have the dexterity to hang on and peck at the nuts. Today has again been a wet and wild day. This evening the skies have cleared and the clouds can be seen racing across the moonlit night. With winds to gale force 9 on the hills above the weather station, howling around the house and through the trees, natures ends another year, and starts anew.