January 2017 - Warrens

''Wulfmonath' is here again ...

The Anglo-Saxons called January “Wulfmonath” as it was the month hungry wolves came scavenging at people’s doors. Fortunately, or unfortunately as some people may think, we no longer have Wolves scavenging at our doors, but there is plenty of wildlife outside that continue to hunt to survive our coldest month.

I have continued to visit the stream through-out January, watching the Kingfisher which I will return to later. At the moment, we have another visitor that is a little closer to home.

This frequent visitor to our garden most nights are Tawny Owls. More often heard by its easily recognised 'ke-wick' high pitched call, the Tawny is the most abundant of the UK's 5 species of owls.

We have had a Tawny nesting box up in place at the bottom of our garden for two years, without success, but we are hoping this may be used possibly this year. I have noticed a definite increase locally in Tawny owl sightings and calls over the winter as they start to prepare for breeding in March. I have also frequently found the regurgitated remains  of the pellets in our garden, so we are hoping that our nesting box will soon be used.

January has been a cold month this year. Although no snow has arrived, we have had several nights of bitterly cold temperatures that has blanketed our village with hard frosts, and sometimes freezing dense fog that stays with us all day.

During January, when the sun appears low in the sky, it can produce amazing rich colours in the late afternoon. The golden colours give the impression of warmth as the orange glow illuminates the surrounding countryside,  but it has little effect on the frozen ground that are still covered from the frosts from the night before.

Difficult conditions for all wildlife to endure, but a pro-longed spell of of cold nights can be devastating for Kingfishers. When a cold spell of weather lasts for a long period of time and the feeding becomes difficult, it is known for Kingfishers to leave the territory and head towards coastal regions where food is more plentiful.

Although our local Kingfisher has a good territory with a good food supply, it's unlikely he would leave this stretch of very desirable  stream and source of food. I am sure as Spring approaches, other Kingfishers will be trying take possession of this patch of stream from our lone male, so he will have some battles in front of him to retain it in the coming months.

The Kingfisher looks stunning in the late afternoon sunshine of January as he perches motionless watching for movement below in the water for his next meal.

Similar to the Tawny owls, I would expect the male Kingfisher to start actively seeking a partner during late February and into March. February being one of the best times to see a Kingfisher as they are more vocal this time of year. Their distinctive call easily recognisable once you have heard it a couple of times.

The banks of the stream are at their most clear now, the dense foliage has been largely killed back by the frosts and are more exposed. Although still trying to spot a Kingfisher is not as easy as one might expect. It is usually the quick flash of electric blue that gives the bird away as it flies of downstream as you unwittingly approach the bird tucked into the bank.

The Kingfisher continues to favour certain areas of the stream to hunt, so even when he is not present at the hide I can usually locate him within a few minutes. They are a creature of habit, preferring the same perches along its territory to  hunt or to preen.

By spending a little time at the side of the stream in the summer months you will soon become familiar with the Kingfishers routines. The most favoured perches are easily recognisable due to the give-a-away collection of white droppings the culminate underneath, along with small delicate pellets that they also regurgitate.

Although I have sat at the side of the stream this winter, my feet numb from the frost frozen ground, my hands sometimes too numb to change the settings on the camera. It is still an enjoyable and thrilling  moment to watch the Kingfisher in action as it dives for it's survival during the month of Wulfmonath.

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