Basin Notes - February 2006

Challenging time despite weather!

January will be one of the harshest months of winter. Expect snow, frost, damaging gales, heavy rain and flooding.

Be sure to heed those experts who can foretell the future - this winter will be the worst for many years. Be thankful when January has passed.

So much then for prophecy

Apart from a few nippy frosts, the weather this January was almost tranquil. Of course there is still plenty of time for winter to kick in but we are now into February and longer days, coupled with snowdrops, aconites and crocuses in bloom, help to lift the spirits.

Despite milder winters this is still a challenging time for mammals and birds. A combination of cold weather, lack of food and the presence of predators will take its toll of the injured, weak and unwary. Smaller mammals have very little reserves of fat and lose heat quickly, so they will forage for food day and night to survive.

The fox on the other hand has a thick, warm coat to see it through the winter. It is a very adaptable animal, an opportunist and a survivor. This is now their mating season and if you are out in the dark you might hear the bloodcurdling scream of the vixen.

Badgers will also start mating this month Although they do not hibernate, they will remain in their burrows during severe winter weather and live off their layers of fat.

The raven, used to rough, windy coastlines and crags, is one of our first birds to nest and the female will be incubating this month. Rookeries will soon be a hive of activity and a rich cacophony of sound as nests are remade and lined in preparation for the next generation.

Heronries, too, are noisy places as birds posture and squabble. There is much to-ing and fro-ing as old nests are spruced up with fresh sticks, interspersed with courtship displays as bonding is established between breeding pairs.

This month the cock blackbird will lay claim to its territory with its mellifluous song and the hen will be sitting on a clutch of eggs by March.

On the Basin, goldeneye and red-breasted merganser are displaying and at various locations a lone female eider can often be seen encircled by a group of amorous males shadowing her every move as the pairing process continues.

Lapwing will start moving off the Basin this month towards their breeding grounds.