December 2010 & January 2011

Once again, the last few weeks have been a very challenging time for our wildlife with heavy snowfall and extreme temperatures.

Being near the coast Kelling has not suffered as badly as further inland but the weather has still had a major effect on our wildlife. How desperate birds have been for food has been very apparent as the bird feeders at Kelling have been heaving with birds, with constant skirmishes due to the tensions created by cold weather and a limited food supply.

The resident birds have been joined by bramblings, which are northerly cousins of the chaffinch. Whilst birds such as blue tits, and chaffinches are able to survive thanks to food provided by us it is a different matter for birds that stay away from humans and particularly the insect eaters.

We will once again have to keep our fingers crossed that the Dartford warblers at Kelling have survived the recent cold spell. Where possible they continue to feed on spiders throughout the winter, finding their prey under the canopy of the gorse bushes.

One of the most evocative sounds heard at Kelling at this time of year is the sound of large skeins of geese flying overhead. As well as the resident feral greylag and Canada geese there are large flocks of Brent geese. These small, dark geese have travelled from Russia to over winter on our warmer shores! However much we think we know our home patch and the wildlife that it shelters, a walk in the snow can be an enlightening experience. Using footprints as clues we can identify who has been around the last few days.

Foxes are not often seen at Kelling but the evidence from their footprints is that they are quite common and at this time of year they can also be heard at night, as now is the peak period of their mating season and they are very vocal. They produce a triple bark followed by what can only be described as a scream. In addition the musky smell of fox is also a lot more obvious as they patrol their territories.

Generally at this time of year invertebrates are very few and far between but one moth is very obvious, in front of car headlights and at lighted windows. The winter moth is a rather drab and uninteresting looking creature and the female is unable to fly but it is a real winter survivor and can remain active even in sub zero temperatures as its body contains a form of antifreeze which prevents frost destroying the cells in its body. Antifreeze is also found in the snowdrop plant and hopefully they will start to flower in the next few weeks to give us the first sign of warmer and longer days ahead!