December has been rather mild overall and there have been times when, working outside, I have been most comfortable in a t-shirt. The mild weather has had an effect on our wildlife too, with a wider range of bird song evident and a distinct shortage of birds coming to visit the garden feeders. Judging by the moth wings scattered on the floor of the passageway at the side of our house, a brown long-eared bat has been equally active over recent weeks.
Coming off the back of a colder spell early in the month, the warm damp air that pushed up from the Azores mid-month seems to have tricked some birds into thinking that spring was on its way. In addition to the characteristic winter song of robin, which adds a melancholy air to the winter months, blackbird, mistle thrush, dunnock and woodpigeon were all to be heard in song from the garden. With the exception of dunnock, these are species that often make their first nesting attempt very early in the year and I would not be surprised to learn of individuals sat on eggs during the first half of January. Even a pair of mute swans on the river were reinforcing their pair bond with display behaviour more usually seen in spring.
That the garden feeders have been so quiet is not just a reflection of the mild conditions, which reduce the energetic stresses faced by small birds, but also the size of the autumn seed and berry crop. The 2013 crop of woodland and hedgerow fruits and seeds has been so abundant that it continues to last well into the winter months. No doubt the lack of a heavy frost has also played its part, since this often see the berries drop to the ground, where they then become accessible to small mammals and other wildlife. While the garden is quiet, the local woods are still busy with birds and mobile flocks of tits and finches can be found feeding among the trees. Siskin and lesser redpoll have been favouring the riverside alders; should the weather turn cold early in the New Year then I would expect the garden feeding station to become a hive of activity.