This morning we stepped out into a bright wintry landscape, every branch, blade of grass and building sheathed in a fine layer of frost. Small birds jostled for position on the feeders, a Robin tetchily chased a Dunnock away from seeds that had dropped to the ground and a Great spotted woodpecker tucked rapaciously into a block of suet.
Light snow has fallen sporadically in recent days but instantly melts as it hits the ground, unlike other parts the country where there have been relatively heavy downfalls. However, we shouldn’t be too complacent as the Met Office is predicting a flurry in this part of Wales by Friday.
On nearby farmland, I have noticed Lapwings gathering in relatively large numbers (a ‘deceit’ is the collective noun for this bird due to its diversionary tactics when protecting young). The last time I observed this happening was two or three winters ago, shortly before a heavy blizzard – so the forecasters could well be right.
One of the great pleasures of mid-winter is watching excitable flocks of Long-tailed tits (Aegithalos caudatus) alighting on the feeders amid much trilling and disorder. Always seeming to be in a frantic rush to reach their next appointment, these delightful little passerines with black, white and pinkish plumage (and tails longer than their bodies) flit about in groups of about fifteen. They dangle at peculiar angles from the peanut holders and eat hastily before dashing off in undulating throngs to who knows where.
January is a surprisingly active month for wildlife and those of us who encourage it on our land. The mistletoe, which was grafted on to an apple tree a couple of years back, is now festooned with milk-white berries, hanging like opaque beads on an olive-green sculpture. We have been erecting bat boxes, pruning fruit trees and planting hedges: a mixture of Hawthorn (Crataegus Monogyna), Alder Buckthorn (Rhamnus Frangula), Wayfaring Tree (Viburnum lantana), Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) and Field Maple (Acer campestre) to encourage the maximum diversity of species in years to come.
Last month I placed six English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) plants in the new bee garden and dug a selection of shallots and garlic cloves in to the vegetable patch. Shortly before Christmas, I also planted five-hundred English bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) on the margins of our woodland.
This evening the temperature plunged to minus something very cold indeed. As I shut the animals away for the night and collected a basket of logs for our wood burner, a Tawny owl called enigmatically from somewhere just above my head.
There is a sense that nature is waiting patiently for a hint of spring, but for now, we must all keep going as best we can in our own tenacious ways.