This winter’s weather has seen a series of weaker than usual systems caused by erratic behaviour of the jetstream; a night or so of plunging temperatures followed by rapid warming resulting in snow freezing into solid ice followed by “nice” fluffy snow followed by ice pellets then more freezing rain turning to wet rain … and then all starting again as the resultant slush freezes. And so on. Generally temperatures are often above seasonal normals hereabouts with occasional erratic plunges. Mid-week we were in the warm, wet rain part of the cycle following prolonged overnight freezing rain after a bit of snow. By mid morning we had slushy ice and the surviving snow cover formed a two inch thick ice crust that easily held the weight of an adult while squirrels etc were quite unable to dig into it in search of food. Trees still had a light coating of ice but it rapidly melted as the sun came out and then the day was followed by a sharp overnight drop to -15C resulting in some really nasty conditions and exceptionally hard foraging for the wildlife.

This is the kind of winter during which plants which are normally snug under a nice, insulating layer of snow start to be lost due to the alternating frees/thaw. It will be surprising if the spring does not show some plants that didn’t make it though the winter.

A small flock of Robins has been around the area all winter and they flew through here the morning after the freezing rain. Every winter we get more and more Robins that decide to stick it out with us – quite successfully.

We are fortunate at the Sparroworks in having all three colour-morphs of the “grey” squirrel. The greys predominate as you would expect but we also have quite a number of blacks and a few of the creamy form plus one very, very pale squirrel that is approaching white. At the moment the males are chasing the females with considerable “intent” up and down and round the trees at high speed. Spring is coming, it really is.

The picture at the top of the post shows one of many standing, seed-bearing flowers we always leave to overwinter as they feed the birds in times of hardship. It seems to be a widespread Canadian custom to ruthlessly clear such food sources in the autumn so that the garden is “tidy” for the winter but by doing so there is so much opportunity for helping the wildlife that is lost. Certainly it has to be tidied at some point, but it only has to be done once and it is better to leave the task until the snows have melted in March or April when we are all suffering from cabin fever and seeking an excuse to get outside and “do something useful”.

On a lighter note our old colleague, Happy God, has taken advantage of the prevailing conditions to have a good “bath”.

Happy God has been a resident feature of several gardens of ours, both in Canada and in England where he used to keep an eye on the squirrels as he does here but also enjoyed earnest conversations with hedgehogs.


More about Project Feederwatch –  receive next season free!

Last week we put in a plug for wildlife gardeners who not already doing it, to consider signing up for the winter “Project Feederwatch”. Coincidentally, Cornell Lab of Ornithology together with Bird Studies Canada have just sent out an invitation to gardeners to join between now and the end of February, get some practice in during the last couple of months of this season and then get Feederwatch 2017-2018 entirely free.

** Click this link to start counting birds –

What is Project FeederWatch?

Project FeederWatch lets you become the biologist of your own backyard. You identify the birds at your feeders and submit your observations to the Cornell Lab. You can count every week between November—April, or you can count only once all season—the time you spend is up to you! Our easy online data entry lets you immediately see all of your counts and view colorful summaries and graphs. Anyone interested in birds can participate; you don’t have to be an expert. All you need is a comfortable chair, a window, and an interest in the birds in your garden.

Participants will receive:

  • FeederWatch Handbook & Instructions
  • Full-color poster of common feeder birds
  • Bird-Watching Days Calendar
  • Our annual report, Winter Bird Highlights
  • Digital access to Living Bird magazine