I have been slow to begin feeding the birds this winter. The weather was mild until halfway through November when it suddenly felt much colder. This is when I noticed a Blackbird hanging around the Cotoneaster plant that was full of red berries. Each time I opened the curtains in the morning he would fly off and was often there, watching me with his beady brown eye, whenever I looked out of the window during the day. For much of the summer, the garden was devoid of birds save for the House Sparrows who roost in our Privet hedge and create a cacophony of noise each evening as they begin to settle.
But now the colder weather is here and the berries on the Cotoneaster and Myrtle are disappearing fast. I have bought a new feeder and stocked up on suet balls for the Blue Tits, who always amuse me with their antics on the coconut halves that we fill with a mixture of suet, seeds and dried fruit. The Great Tits too are very acrobatic and experts at pulling out whole peanuts from the feeders which they then carry back to the Privet hedge to eat in peace away from the bullying Sparrows!
Even the Robin will have a go at perching on the feeder, but along with the Dunnock is happier eating from the floor, cleaning up any seed that is dropped by other birds, as well as sultanas and pieces of apple that we lay on for the ‘ground feeders’.
The water bath is a large terracotta saucer which I keep filled with fresh water and break the ice on as my first job each morning when the weather is freezing. Although it seems strange to see them, the birds enjoy a bath even on the coldest of days. Keeping their feathers clean and well oiled helps to insulate them against low temperatures.
Last summer I stacked some rotting logs in a corner of the garden and they have been home to various fungi through the autumn creating a colourful display. Through the winter months, the logs will provide shelter for a wide range of insects as well as toads and frogs that will hibernate there. Our stone walls that border parts of the garden will also be useful winter lodgings for toads along with pesky snails that will hibernate in large groups anywhere that is dry!
I have made an insect house from some hollow bamboo stems and put them into a metal coffee tin which has been hung in a tree. Hopefully beneficial insects will take up residence there away from the cold weather and emerge next spring to begin to feed on pests such as Aphid and small caterpillars. I have noticed a lot of Ladybirds hibernating around the garden – their larvae have a huge appetite for Aphid and I often notice them on my broad beans in May, consuming the horrible black bean aphids!
The mild weather has meant that on sunny days there are still bees on the wing and they are enjoying the white flowers on the Strawberry Tree (Arbutus) along with the sweetly scented blooms of the Japanese Honeysuckle. Long may the good weather continue so that we can all enjoy our gardens through the winter months!