Wildlife Column with Prof Ian Rotherham
With very mild and unseasonal weather and a few bright, sunny days, the local birdlife is getting into the mood of an early breeding season.
Typically early breeders include blackbird, which may be nesting by Christmastime, mallard ducks, which have long-since paired up and come into full gaudy breeding plumage, and of course tawny owls. In recent weeks, the latter have become increasingly noisy as they mark out and defend their territories.
Birds of prey will also be displaying over and around their chosen patch and summarily seeing off any potential rivals.
At Hassop Station near Bakewell, in almost full darkness, I had a common buzzard drop over the Trail and into nearby woodland to roost. I think this wood is the same one in which the buzzard will nest this spring. They certainly nested there in previous years.
Another marker of mild weather was a noctule bat hawking for insect prey between the taller hawthorn bushes along the sides of the trail. Several people noticed it and stopped to watch. I hope that it returned to its roost with a full belly otherwise, its winter sojourn may be a problem.
Mammals like bats need to feed if they awake early in the winter; otherwise there is a danger of using up precious body-fat that will keep them going through the long hibernation.
Common flowers are also all mixed up and I spotted red campion in bloom, common hogweed in flower, and in my garden, both ox-eye daisy and marsh marigold. Hazel catkins are appearing and honeysuckle stems are budding with their bright green leaves.
Snowdrops are out in some places and early crocuses will soon follow. High above them the nuthatches are calling and singing loudly and are joined by vociferous great tits and blue tits.
The robins and dunnocks never really stopped singing but they sound louder and more urgent now.
I noticed our local rookery getting noisier and busier and the nearby jackdaws increasingly active on the neighbour’s chimneystack. I do believe they raised young there last year.
Professor Ian D. Rotherham, of Sheffield Hallam University, researcher, writer and
broadcaster on wildlife and environmental issues