It is the beginning of January as I write this and the snow and ice has gone, at least for the time being. My dog is quite disappointed as he loves to use his nose as a snow plough to shovel through it. I got my exercise clearing a wall of snow where the snow plough had blocked the entrance to the drive. As the snow began to melt I took the dog through Munday's Close and heard a couple of whooshing noises amongst the trees. I soon found out what it was as a mini avalanche of snow slipped from a nearby branch which snapped back into place like a whip. A lucky escape from being covered in snow which was repeated the next day when I went to post a letter, the snow slid off the village hall roof and landed just behind the post box. On some of the days, when it was not too cold, I spent some time in the garage making a nest box for tawny owls which will go up in Munday's Close at some point. Tawny owls prefer a deep tube like box whilst barn owls prefer a larger area in which to raise their young.
During the cold weather the birds are returning to the gardens in search of food. It is important to keep feeders stocked up and have ice free water available for them. One bird that has been appearing in larger numbers this year is the goldfinch, with up a dozen birds at a time on the feeders. They are particularly attracted to nyjer seed. Although they don't use the feeders several flocks of long-tailed tits have worked their way through the trees in the garden. Other birds that seem to be doing well are the dunnock, great tit, robin and wren all of which can be seen regularly in Munday's Close and along Mickley Lane. The resident pair of bullfinches in that area have also been joined by a second female and all three were seen feeding together. Numbers of blackbirds seem to be well up and at the beginning of January, in the field at rear of the house, I noticed thirteen all feeding in a very small area. A shower of rain that had just passed may have brought the worms up to the surface. They were certainly busy finding something to eat. It is amazing how bird populations change. In the space of twenty minutes I saw, from the dining window, a buzzard, a red kite and little egret. A few years ago it would have been rare to see any of these, now they are a common sight. The little egret that has been around for a couple of years has found a mate. I first saw the two of them together in the middle of November and for a couple of days, at around ten o'clock in the morning, they flew into the trees in Ashwell Road. Maybe we will see some little little egrets! Two birds missing this year are fieldfares and redwings. The hawthorn berries and sloes disappeared early this year and there was no sign of these birds in the hedges along Mickley Lane. In previous years you could always guarantee seeing them along there.Other than birds there have not been many new sightings. An adult hawthorn shieldbugwas found hibernating in my compost bin but the weather has been too cold for many insects to be about. Anthony Wright reported a hedgehog in his garden in November, hopefully looking for somewhere to hibernate.Garden plants often surprise me as to how hardy they can be. As soon as the snow had melted after Christmas the snowdrops were just showing a tinge of white as the flowers got ready to open. A week later they, and the aconites, were in flower. The geraniums, I mentioned in the last issue, that I was going to throw out have got a reprieve. They are still flowering so maybe they will survive outside. It must be the little bit of extra protection provided by their position beneath the kitchen window. Even more unusual were some lobelia plants. These were self sets from a hanging basket the year before last. They had seeded in between the block paving and had made nice little clumps of blue flowers until the snow. I assumed that would be the end of them but when the snow melted they were still there, no longer flowering but certainly not dead. Some love in a mist plants self seeded over last summer and produced a carpet of seedlings. Despite them usually being grown as annuals these little plants have been unaffected by the cold. A plant that gave a really good late show of flowers was the false castor oil plant (Fatsia japonica). Set against its rather exotic leaves the creamy white spires of flowers looked spectacular and were much appreciated by late season insects. Elsewhere in the garden it has been severe pruning time. Many of the shrubs are thirty years old and getting past their best. Rather than dig them up and replace I thought I would give them a chance to rejuvenate themselves. A cut back to basically bare stumps will give them two chances, grow or be removed. This treatment certainly works for overgrown pinks. I cut some back to next to nothing in the autumn and within weeks they started putting out new shoots. They are now nice compact plants but I was convinced I had killed them. In the greenhouse some velthemias are coming into flower. These bulbous plants come from South Africa hence they flower at this time of year. I am always interested in other peoples sightings and comments so don't forget to email me on firstname.lastname@example.org.