Given that it’s the festive season, the majority of my recent animal spotting has come from my parents home in Whitley Bay, a coastal town on the outskirts of Newcastle. Their humble back garden – however much it may lack in breadth – is a haven for all manner of wildlife, thanks to my Dad’s serious green-fingers. In summer, the place blossoms and becomes a hive for a great number of insects. Enormous bumblebees in their stripy bomber jackets blunder their way through the honeysuckle, whilst their smaller and more nimble cousins, the honeybees, zip through the lavender borders; the Buddleja comes alive with a great variety of butterflies and beetles, of all shapes and sizes, scuttle in the midst of the flowerbeds.
But it’s this time of year that for me, the garden serves it’s true purpose. When the weather is at its harshest, the trees stripped bare and food is scarce, our gardens can provide essential shelter and nutrition for many species, most notably the garden birds. We have always made a point of putting out extra food: crushed nuts, seeds, stale bread. This year we put the inevitable festive excesses to good use, leaving out leftover Christmas pud and cake to provide those much needed calories (and rid us of less needed ones!).
Someone who seemed very happy with our leavings was the resident robin (christened with the appropriately festive name of…’Norman’ by my niece) who according to my Mam has been a regular to our Berberis tree for many months. Norman, resplendent with his red breast, often takes place just above the bird feeder and sings his heart out. Obviously our little garden has become ‘his’ territory for the season.
Seemingly, his efforts have been ignored by the other birds who have been attracted to our festive free-for-all. We are also frequented by a male coal-tit, aptly named in his dark grey miners cap; several blue-tits, and a pesky crow, who appeared a few days ago to steal the strips of pitta bread (Norman’s favourite) from right beneath the robin’s beak.
Our plan has worked, though; all the birds look suitably well-fed, having fluffed up their feathers to conserve heat.
Another winter visitor was a field mouse, who endlessly taunted Dad by hanging about the humane trap he had set for him. Wrongly identifying the mouse as a small rat, Dad had spent many hours trying (and failing) to capture the visitor and re-release him onto the back field. After trying chocolate, cheese and dried fruit to lure our cunning friend in with, to no avail, it was the slice of apple that revealed the truth. Somehow, our friend had worked out how to remove the food without setting off the trap. Although we didn’t manage to catch the critter, I did manage to capture this photo, which shows a beautifully smug field mouse (not a rat) enjoying his afternoon snack.