The recent extremely cold temperatures along with snow cover make life very difficult for those animals not tucked up and hibernating until the arrival of the softer days of spring. Such conditions sometimes provide incredible opportunities to see birds and animals at close quarters that would normally be extremely shy and quickly take flight at the approach of a human. In these conditions it really is a case of the survival of the fittest.
So whenever there is cold weather it is worth keeping a sharp lookout for less common birds even on well frequented areas. For example, a water rail turned up in a Great Cornard garden backing on to the Cornard riverside meadows and a dunlin dropped in at the Floodgates. A volunteer ranger reported seeing a flock of around twenty waxwings feeding of rose hips close to Manscroft footbridge on Freemen’s Great Common. These strikingly handsome arctic visitors flock to Britain to feed on berries. On the riverside these include guelder rose, dog rose and hawthorn.
In spite of the generally wintery conditions many birds are showing signs of pairing or becoming aggressively territorial. To this end there is constant jockeying between swans for prime territories around the Quay Cut area of the river whilst just beyond, on some sunny days there is once again much buzzard activity. On the first day of the month four birds interspersed their majestic circling with sky-rolling antics as they touched talons in tentative courtship greeting.
Remaining on the other side of the river, a further barn owl box has been erected in the hope that in the long run two broods might be raised in a good season. This follows on from two successful breeding seasons. Hopefully patience might be rewarded in due course.
Work to remove low or decaying branches overhanging the Valley Trail is now taking place whilst in CornardCountryPark the annual coppicing to thin out plantation trees continues. This work allows the remaining trees to spread and allows the sunlight through to the ground. Whilst it will take a very long time to replicate the flora of ancient woodland the riot of vegetation that results from this work is an improvement on the bare ground created by dense stands of spindly trees that struggle to compete for sunlight.
The wet conditions have left very muddy footpaths at a number of locations. All the worst areas will be attended to once heavy machinery can access the land without making too much further mess.