Nature Notes – February 2016

This January I spent a few moments on New Year’s Day recording which of the flowers in the garden were already (or still) flowering in the unseasonably mild weather. There were well over 25, both garden plants and wild flowers. Many people will have found the same. Some of these are just a curiosity, of no special benefit, but those that regularly flower early can be of immense benefit to early bees and other garden insects. My particular favourites, which I have advocated before, are the winter Honeysuckle and early varieties of Pulmonaria, both full of bees on a mild day in early spring.

There are two more species of wild deer to mention, both much smaller than the Red and Fallow Deer I spoke about last time. The smaller of these is the Muntjac, which we have mentioned before, originally an introduction from south China. People have often been getting glimpses of them around the villages, sometimes even in gardens. We have been seeing one regularly this winter, a female or doe, recognised by the lack of any antlers. The male, or buck, has small straight antlers lying backwards along the top of his head. They are shed in May or June, and replaced by September. He also has quite large upper canine teeth, protruding downwards like small tusks. Our female is sometimes accompanied by a small fawn. A single offspring is normal; apparently there is no particular breeding season, and females can first give birth at under a year old.

Finally of the local deer is the Roe Deer. This is slightly larger than the Muntjac, but still a small species. It is a native, widespread in East Suffolk although I see them only rarely, usually near the edge of a field in early morning. Roe bucks have small upright branched antlers, which unlike the larger deer they re-grow in the winter. They are greyer in winter, more reddish in summer, and with a distinctive black muzzle.

Rooks and Jackdaws have been very busy this winter feeding in the stubble of newly planted arable fields. The do often feed together although rooks, with longer beaks, can probe deeper into the soil. In the sunlight, the Rooks clearly show the pale bare patch at the base of the bill, while the Jackdaws are noticeably smaller, with grey rather than black on the head and neck. Both of these birds have been gathering on winter nights in woods just down the valley, sometimes in flocks of many hundreds. By now the rooks at least will be showing more interest in breeding, and gathering at their rookeries (mostly in Rendham). The Jackdaws will disperse more, to nest sites in old trees and various roofs.

Another bird to look out for is the Treecreeper, reported from a Sweffling garden this winter. Treecreepers depend completely on trees, so are mostly found in woodland. Their tail and claws are adapted for creeping upwards on trunks and branches, where they hunt for insects and spiders in the bark. Look for a very small slender bird, brown on top and a silvery white underneath, often described as ‘mouse-like’. I don’t imagine they will come to bird feeders, but any garden with trees may get a brief visit. On our feeders this winter there have been a large number of Redpolls, not yet showing their pink breeding colours. As yet we have had only a couple of Siskins, (on the Goldfinch feeders), but they do normally appear a bit later in the winter.

By Geoffrey Abbott