Tony Drakeford's nature notes

Deep mid-winter

Well, we have had our first few snow flurries of the winter but not enough to settle and create a sparkling magical winter wonderland.

We may enjoy snow when it first falls but not when it turns to slush and ice and for wildlife; it causes a variety of problems.

For example, earthworms play a major role in the diet of many animals and birds but when snow falls, or the top layer of soil freezes, then worms dive deep thus denying creatures access to them.

Normally, foxes and badgers hoover up mouthfuls of worms on wet nights but not in icy conditions. Blackbirds and thrushes must seek food elsewhere and that is when holly, pyracantha and hawthorn berried treasure comes into its own and bushes can be stripped quite quickly in prolonged cold spells.

The smaller the bird so the faster the heat loss and species such as wrens and goldcrests can suffer. It has been known for wrens to huddle together inside nest boxes and up to a dozen have been recorded taking shelter to keep warm.

But for the kestrel it may not be so difficult to locate prey which consists mainly of voles. For it has recently been discovered that the little animals leave a urine/pheromone scent trail as they scamper along runways in the grass which radiate a sort of ultra-violet light that, incredibly, kestrels can detect as they hover above and then drop onto an unsuspecting vole. But presumably, this only works if the snow is not too deep.

My picture shows a male kestrel playing a winter waiting game perched on a fence post.