On the border of winter and spring

We had a quiet walk around part of Pitsford Water Nature Reserve today on what was a very bright and cloudless afternoon. There was some warmth in the sun and in sheltered spots it felt later in the year than the end of February. However, out in the open there was a chilly breeze, particularly across the reservoir, that took us back into winter.

Even the wildlife was a mixture between the two seasons. Along some of the tree-lined rides were some remaining winter thrushes feeding on the ground, the redwings and fieldfares ‘seeping’ and ‘chuckling’ as they flew off before our approach. Out on the water there were diminishing flocks of wintering wildfowl including wigeon, pochard and goldeneye. However, sharing the water were tentatively displaying great crested grebes and there were some springtime calls from a range of passerines in the surrounding woodland. A song thrush called loudly from within a thick hawthorn, and great tits sang amongst mixed flocks of other tits. I saw my first willow tit in a couple of years as well as the first tree sparrows of 2022 in their usual spot on the entrance to the reserve.

Finally, today it did seem that spring is just around the corner and the season is starting to turn, even if there is still plenty of time for cold days to take us back to winter again.

Our nocturnal garden visitor…

It was only in the last 6 months of living in my previous house, where I’d been for over 20 years, that I started to get badgers coming into the garden. It was a joy to have these amazing animals visiting on a regular basis and I was a little sad to leave them behind when we moved to Northamptonshire.

I did have a little hope that we might have badgers visiting the garden at our new house but so far none have appeared on our camera trap. Instead, we’ve had a much wider list of mammals over the past year with a semi-regular fox, a daily squirrel, six species of bat in the warmer months, as well as mice, voles and moles. However, the stars so far have to have been the hedgehogs.

From spring onwards, we had started to see their dropping around the garden but it took a while to actually see one. We put food out for them and left out the camera trap. We soon captured videos of them coming wandering around the patio and eventually saw one as we looked out of the window one evening. Front then on, we saw them almost nightly and up to three at a time. They often quarrelled over food and we could sometimes even hear them snorting at each other when we went to bed at night.

As summer turned into autumn, a small hedgehog started to appear, one of the year’s young. We saw the hoglet grow and after a time it was difficult to tell him (or her) apart from others. He eventually disappeared with the others as the colder weather came in.

A little while later, we saw a very small hoglet in the garden, much smaller than the previous small one we had been seeing. Being November, it was possible that this little one had been abandoned by its mother before it had weaned. We saw it for a couple of nights and were concerned but when we saw it out in the daylight, seemingly desperately hungry, trying to eat the empty food bowl, we had to act.

We picked it up and put into a box with straw and a warm hot water bottle and blanket, to keep it safe while we found a rescue centre. We found that the centres closest to us were full, so we had to drive 45 minutes to the nearest one with any space. We left him (he was confirmed as a boy) there with quite a few others and hoped for the best. We heard he had survived the first few days, which gave us hope, but after a few weeks we learned that he had not made it after all.

We had been told we would get him back to release in the garden when he got better but this wasn’t to be. However, we were offered another youngster instead to set fee. We went to pick him up and bought a second hedgehog house (we already had one which is hopefully in use) and a feeding station (to stop the cats eating all the food). Arriving home we waited until night had arrived before releasing him outside his new home and waited for him to go inside.

Over the last few weeks we have regularly seen him as he gets to know his new home. With the relatively warm winter, he’s unlikely to hibernate, and is out foraging most evenings, taking food we leave out for him.

It was great to get a happy ending to first year of hedgehog watching and feeding in our garden – and hopefully we get even more in the garden this year.

Freezing and freeing sunset

For the first time in ages, possibly even this year (apart from a Friday or two), we went for a post-work walk down at our favourite spot below Hanging Houghton.

A sudden return to cold weather came during the day with some sleet showers in mid-afternoon following a sunny start. I began my morning listening to a song thrush calling from a nearby garden but that moment was soon pushed away by the working day.

Heading out for the walk it was time to put on the heavy coat and big woolly hat. Getting out of the car after the short ten-minute drive, I was very glad I had. The freezing wind blows mostly unimpeded in that spot once out of the cover of the trees. The walk was cut short at about half the usual distance as the cold began to bite and the peace was disturbed as a rumbling 747 trundled slowly across the sky.

Nearly back at the car, we stopped to stand on the little bridge over which the dirt farm track crosses a stream, watching the orange glow of the sunset beneath the darkening blue above. This time it was a mistle thrush calling from a nearby stand of trees, heard clearly over the lightly babbling water. One of the usual local buzzards broke the spell momentarily but then a sudden dart appeared, racing towards us. A kingfisher flew beneath the arch of the bridge and away behind us into the darkness around the first meander.

Quite a lovely moment of release to end a working day…

Walking from our doorstep

It’s now almost exactly a year to the day since we moved into our house in a Northamptonshire village. Over the twelve months we’ve been for plenty of walks around the county, both locally and further afield. However, we thought that walks from the house were limited to a couple of footpaths that didn’t really lead anywhere. We were very wrong and it’s just a pity it’s taken so long to realise.

There’s actually a permissive path leading from the village down into the neighbouring valley and joins a newly established footpath up to the next small settlement. Neither of these routes are on the Ordnance Survey mapping, so we were largely unaware about of them. We knew there was a permissive path but not really where it was or where it went, but after reading some arguments about it on the village Facebook page, we decided to check it out. It turns out the path is a real asset to the village and connects to a wider network of public rights of way.

On what was a very blustery late morning, we headed out well wrapped up but we soon warmed up. The walk was about 5.5 miles in total across open pasture and ploughed fields, along hedgerows and on some quiet country lanes. It’s reasonably rolling in these parts so there were a few inclines to climb but nothing too steep. There were good views all around as we headed down the slopes and reached new crests. I even managed to put some of my new badger surveying skills into practice but more on that later.

While this was a relatively short walk, we expected it to rain at any moment, it looks like we can extend it in various directions and create 10 mile and possibly 15 mile walks when the weather is nicer.

The route is a real find and no doubt we’ll be doing it as regularly as some of our other local walks as the spring arrives.