Sick of the snow?
Are you sick of the snow already? well in truth I'm not, I love it! I love watching the snow falling, admiring the white hills and roof tops from my window and feeling the crunch of snow under my feet while out exploring the moor. While I can retreat to the warmth of my fire, wildlife can not. - At Langholm we've not experienced the levels of snow that many other parts of Scotland (and some parts of England) have, but we've had enough to have an impact on wildlife. The simplest of clues is the increase in Blackbirds in my garden from my usual two to twelve - all eagerly awaiting a bit of seed or a few meal worms every morning when the ground is frozen solid. Out walking the moor last week, I found a dead pygmy shrew with no visible injuries, presumably it had succumbed to the cold temperatures. These tiny mammals have a very high metabolism and need to eat very regularly to survive.
One creature I was able to help was a Peacock Butterfly that had emerged from its winter dormancy a tad early and was flapping its wings furiously trying to get warm. I delivered the butterfly back into my woodshed where it settled down hopefully until a more suitable month.
The temperatures may be cold but Spring is definitely in the air, the longer days are amongst the triggers for plants and animals to prepare for the season ahead.. Black Grouse are displaying at their Leks and Red Grouse chuckling away to one another in the snow covered heather, territorial disputes breaking out between Goshwaks, and early breeders such as Ravens and Herons back at their traditional breeding sites.
The snow doesn't seem to have deterred all the birds on the moor, Hen Harriers, Kestrels and Buzzards are regularly seen hunting the hill. Hattie and Grainne (female harriers tagged in 2013) remain on Langholm moor but their hunting areas have increased in size since the Autumn and they are exploring more of the southern end of the moor. Back in October I watched several harriers hunting voles, zigzagging the same patch of ground all day long and seemingly finding their vole prey easily. Voles appeared so plentiful that the individual Harriers would actually spend very little time hunting and more time perched up on a fence post or rock digesting their meal. Now with the snow cover hunting is more difficult as their small mammal prey can remain hidden under lying snow. Annie, however, may well be 'sick of the snow' as she has recently moved away from her wintering grounds and moved south by 30km just north of Dumfries. Annie has made moves south before and subsequently returned to her favoured wintering area, but time will tell if this another temporary foray or a more permanent move.
|Young female Hen Harrier (John Wright)|
|MacDiarmid Memorial, Langholm Moor|
|Male Hen Harrier (John Wright)|
|Annie, Hattie & Grainne January 2015|
Vole numbers at Langholm last season were high, so plenty of food was likely one factor in the successful breeding season for Harriers (and other vole eating species such as Short Eared Owls and Barn Owls). Field work for the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project team begins in March and one of their first tasks is to get a measure of the vole numbers.. so fingers crossed for good vole numbers and another good season on Langholm moor.
Keep an eye out for public events at Langholm as part of the D&G Wild Seasons Wild Spring Festival http://wildseasons.co.uk/wild-spring. We are currently in the process of attempting to secure funding for the coming year and when we do will be adding our events to the list of great events already advertised.