Tom Uridge

Bleak Midwinter Wildlife

by Tom Uridge The Land 2 Feb 20

This is the season of bitter weather conditions; frosted leaves; snow and storms; dark, starry skies and dramatic sunsets. As beautiful as it is, winter is tough for wildlife - food is scarce and the days are short.  Many people will notice an increase in small mammal activity in their houses and outbuildings during the winter months, where they will take full advantage of our warm, insulated homes. Small mammals lose heat more quickly than larger animals so will spend a great deal of time sleeping through the coldest days to conserve energy. This season our pets will grow thicker fur, the same can be said for wild animals such as foxes, badgers and deer, insulating them against the cold, decreasing the heat lost through their bodies and ensuring their internal temperature is constant.

As autumn progresses and winter takes hold, supplies of fruit are no longer available, so many animals go into hibernation. Thyme’s resident hedgehog was last seen on the Farmhouse lawn in early December foraging to build up fat reserves, ready for hibernation through the bleak winter months, we won’t expect to see him again until March. Amphibians such as toads and frogs will also go into hibernation, burying themselves amongst the leaf litter, underground and under log piles. This is why it is important to leave wild, messy areas in the garden as they provide a life-saving habitat in which creatures can hunker down.

Otters, which have been seen by our remote cameras along Thyme’s riverbanks, adjust their habits in the winter months. In spring and summer they are strictly nocturnal, but in the winter months become diurnal, meaning that they are more active during the day. Such predators are forced to extend their foraging time into daylight hours as the animals on which they feed are less active themselves. Another rare British mammal caught by our cameras is the water vole.  Overwinter, water voles go underground and maintain energy levels by sleeping more, and storing tubers, bulbs and rhizomes. Our otters will be looking for small animals such as the water voles to feast upon … we are hoping that these two endangered species can both thrive along the wild water-banks at Thyme.

Through the winter months many birds rely heavily on seeds and nuts, we have a winter feeding station in the Wildings at Thyme, where we leave a high energy seed mix that consists of chopped peanuts, millet, sunflower hearts, shell sunflowers, maize, wheat and barley. Recent sightings and ringing have included marsh tit, coal tit, nuthatch, bullfinch, siskin (migrant finch from Scandinavia), great spotted woodpecker to name a few. Supplementary feeding is so important for wildlife and can really ease the struggle for survival through the harsh weather, it is also a great way to boost the species count and monitor the species present. One interesting visitor to Thyme this winter has been Jay, which have been spotted foraging for acorns. Jays have a symbiotic relationship with oaks, they can store up to five acorns in their specially designed gullet and one in their beak; they then use their beaks to bore holes in the earth to cache the acorns underground. The jay feeds on the cached acorns through the winter months, but some are misplaced, left to germinate and if conditions allow, grow into a giant oak … a perfect example of the essential part winter plays in the cycles of nature.

Tom takes hotel guests at Thyme on Early Bird Walks throughout the year, find out more here.