The robin has been singing throughout the winter to let everyone know that he owns a particular territory and he will be very aggressive towards any other male of his species that dares to enter his patch. Other birds have now started to sing, declaring their own rights, especially blackbirds and thrushes; these start early in the morning and will sing late into the evening. Both are very tuneful but if you are not sure which song belongs to which bird, the thrush repeats each phrase three or four times, whereas the blackbird’s song is more varied and melodious.
Song thrushes are not as common as they used to be, one of the reasons is due to changes in habitat. The loss of many of our hedges and their associated ditches and banks has meant that, over the years, nesting and feeding sites have disappeared; the thrush is not the only animal to have suffered a decline because of changing farming methods. But before we point our fingers at the farmers we must remember that after the Second World War they were ordered to increase the amount of home grown food. Before the war started we imported a great deal of what we consumed and these imports arrived by sea; enemy attacks on merchant ships meant that there were food shortages, hence the rationing. At the end of the war the fear of not being self-sufficient in the future meant that field sizes were increased and farm machinery got bigger. The hedges were in the way and consequently grubbed out, destroying important habitats and corridors for wildlife. We now know better and plant new hedges wherever possible, hopefully increasing the population of many species, the Song thrush among them. A reduction in the use of agricultural pesticides and herbicides would increase the amount of available food for many animals but this is difficult because we need plentiful, healthy crops, therefore artificial aids are used. However, if we stopped using slug bait in our gardens this would help.
There has been some correspondence in the Eastern Daily Press condemning the sparrow hawk because of its diet; it eats other birds. What it is doing is feeding itself and its family – you know – the same thing that we do when we go to the butcher and buy a piece of meat, thankfully from an animal that was killed by someone else. I feel that it is important to look at the big picture; everything living is linked in one way or another and everything has to eat. The sparrow hawk eats the thrush and the thrush eats the worm, the difference is, of course, that worms are not pretty and, as far as we know, they do not sing. Nobody has bothered to invent a special worm-mix to encourage them to the surface for our admiration and if this was available it would make the worm a sitting target for the thrush – an easy meal – you know, like the sparrow hawk taking a blue tit from your bird table or you choosing something from the butcher’s counter. No, it is not a pretty sight to watch a sparrow hawk dispatch its prey but neither is what goes on in an abattoir. So, as we enjoy our Sunday lunch, let’s not criticise the sparrow hawk for catching hers – nor the thrush, of course.
February is the month when snowdrops are at their best. This beautiful little flower is not thought to be native to Britain, although, because it has become naturalised in so many places, I think we can now count it as one of our ‘wild’ flowers. They are usually the first bulbs to come into bloom and the wonderful drifts through woodlands brighten the gloomiest day. They will even grow in frozen soil and they are able to do this because of a clever adaptation. If you look closely at the end of the pointed leaf you will see that it has a toughened tip, rather like a little shield, and this enables it to push its way up through icy ground. In biblical mythology the snowdrop represents promise. When the first winter came to earth, Eve was sad and missed the meadows and the flowers. A compassionate angel took pity on her and changed a snowflake into a snowdrop, which caused her to wipe away her tears and look forward to the spring. On the other hand some people will not bring the snowdrop into the house, considering it unlucky and a sign of death.
The latest news regarding grey squirrels is that war has been officially declared. Under a new scheme, which animal charities are naturally against, only landowners who agree to cull the squirrels will be eligible for forestry grants from the Government or European Union. They will also be able to apply for £100 per hectare, per year for five years, to assist them in the task, using whatever method they prefer. Anticoagulant poisons have been mentioned but I hope an alternative will be found. These act by preventing the blood from clotting which means the animal dies a slow death from internal bleeding and anything that scavenges the corpse will ingest some of the poison. It is also non-selective and therefore impossible to ensure that only the squirrels eat it. Further money is also to be spent on research into developing a contraceptive to prevent them from breeding. This would certainly be a more humane way of reducing their numbers but, as has been shown with the bovine T.B. badger vaccination programme, medicating wild animals is very much a hit or miss affair. Anyway, nature does seem to have a way of sorting itself out, even though it takes time, but time is part of the big picture.
Anticoagulants are a major worry if, like us, you keep chickens. If you do you will almost certainly be keeping ‘the other people’ as well. There is nothing, except maybe chocolate, that those long tailed ones like better than chicken food and, of course, they have to be controlled; an anticoagulant is the usual method used. A poorly rat will be quickly taken by a predator and tests carried out on dead birds of prey have found significant levels of some of these poisons in their livers. However, a very helpful lady I spoke to at the pest control office assured me that the one they use does not harm ‘non-target’ species. I still feel uncomfortable about it and wish there was another efficient way of controlling these unwanted visitors. Perhaps the birth control method would work here, especially if it was in the form of chocolate!
Things to do this month include:-
- Raptors at Stubb Mill, Hickling Broad.
- Sea & beach watching, Hunstanton cliffs.
- Many guided walks.
www.norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk or 01603 3625540.
- Snowdrop walks at Walsingham Abbey, Hoveton Hall, Horstead House and many other places.
© Sheila Sims 2015. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org