The Big Chill

Like many people I have been pretty much holed up for the last couple of days. I did venture out onto the edge  of the Forest on Thursday. It was very quiet with only a few blackbird and robin digging about in the leaf litter. I came across a group of New Forest ponies, showing just how hardy they are, eating gorse with a covering of snow on their backs. The snow covering shows just how good their coats are at insulating them, the longer hairs that form the winter coat trap layer of air, just as we are told to if we are to keep warm.

a hardy New Forest pony

New Forest pony eating gorse in the snow.

The area I was in is prime nightjar habitat and somewhere I often visit to listen to and watch them. It is remarkable to think that they will probably be churring away here in under two months.

Nightjar habitat

Nightjar habitat

Despite the undoubtedly wintery weather we are actually on the very edge of spring. As thought to emphasise this there were a pair of garganey at Farlington Marshes at the end of last week and sand martin usually arrive at Blashford around the end of the first week of March.

Some signs of spring start a little earlier than the arrival of long-distance migrants. Plants are often our first signs and wild daffodil have been out for a while as have lesser celandine and primrose.

Yesterday I ventured out again and got as far as our Hythe Spartina Marsh reserve, it was very bleak indeed!

Hythe Spartine Marsh

Hythe Spartina Marsh

There were flocks of wigeon and various waders feeding along the water’s edge where the seawater was keeping the mud unfrozen. The wind was cold, blowing across Southampton Water and I did not stay long.

When I decided that opening up on Thursday was not going to happen I did wonder if I had done the right thing. At the time I could have got to the reserve, but the forecast was not promising. Since my way home would have been along the A31, I am very pleased I opted not to open as I might well not have got home the same day!

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A Big Chill

It looks as though the week ahead is going to be a cold one. A freeze at the very end of winter like this can be particularly problematic, wild food such as seeds are almost exhausted and a cold snap will bring a halt to any early spring flush of new foods.

It will also stop any early nesting attempts. I have known lapwing to be settled on eggs in the first week of March, but I am sure they will be much later this year.

frosty lapwing

frosty lapwing

Birds are well adapted to deal with cold weather, despite maintaining a higher body temperature than we do their feathers do a fantastic job of insulation. The lapwing in the picture has a layer of frost on its back, showing just how good this insulation is.

We are predicted to get snow this week, and we will certainly get ice. The reserve is obviously more dangerous when it is icy, as are the roads on the way and the car parks. We are intending to stay open all week, but this might change if either staff cannot safely travel or the conditions on the reserve become dangerous. I will try and keep information up to date here on the blog.