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My Snow Watch experiences

Martin Hughes-Games Martin Hughes-Games | 14:41 UK time, Friday, 8 January 2010

I've been out and about over the past few days marveling at what's going on - the sudden opportunity to see what wildlife is up to by the tracks and signs they leave behind in the snow. I've followed in the footsteps of the fox, tracked an otter and even found the wing imprints of a sparrowhawk strike in the snow... amazing. I've watched the kingfisher hunting in the stream in our village and now find myself wondering what will happen to her if and when the stream freezes up completely.

So there I was at home, thinking about the kingfisher, curled up with a good book and an extra pair of socks when the phone goes. "Er Martin... are you busy? Something's come up!"

And sure enough something has.

A BBC commissioner had noticed there was rather a lot of snow about. "Must be a bit tough for wild life in the snow..." she mused. "Hang on... perhaps there's a programme in this - if we move quickly. What shall we call it? Er... I know, how about Snow Watch, a bit like that Autumnwatch. Hey, good idea."

That was Wednesday - and now we're flat out, putting together a programme for the middle of next week!

As usual, to make it a real success, we're asking for your help.

On thing we've just heard is that the record for the most number of wrens in one nest box (trying to keep warm) has been broken. We are desperately trying to contact the man in Lancashire who reported it. The rumour is he filmed it too. (By the way the old record was an incredible 61!!)

See you next Wednesday... Gulp!


  • 1. At 7:01pm on 08 Jan 2010, Jerry Watsham wrote:

    I'm sure that the birds can tell when bad weather is on the way. They started visiting the feeders in my garden more frequently, and, now look what's happened!

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  • 2. At 8:29pm on 08 Jan 2010, The Swinfords wrote:

    Since the snow has arrived we have had blackcaps, redwings, fieldfares visiting our garden as well as the usual visitors. Fieldfares seem partial to eating apples, quartered. They chase away the blackbirds should they come too close. Sparrows are even feeding themselves on the niger seed feeder.
    The birds don't seem to touch the food once it has become frozen!!
    Tuesday evening, about 8pm, after 2 inches of snow had fallen, my husband and I went for a walk along a local footpath and watched foxes running across the fields. Wonderful sight. They crossed the footpath to enter the gardens on the edge of town. Coming in to search for food?

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  • 3. At 10:21pm on 08 Jan 2010, LazyRizzo wrote:

    I always found blackbirds to be highly territorial, even in winter they'd create merry hell if an intruder came into their "patch". The last couple of weeks there have been a dozen or more blackbirds, male, female and what seem to be this year's juveniles. They all feed on the sultanas, apples and seed I put out, and seem to queue up for drinks and baths when I get the waterfall going - but they don't fight or chase each other off. Is this just because of the exceptionally cold weather?

    (by the way - loving the Snow Watch idea - and the prospect of more Martin - could we have a bit of Gordon too? He's been posting twitter pictures of foxes in Glasgow you know.)

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  • 4. At 10:27am on 09 Jan 2010, FIONA SHARP wrote:

    We have an amazing 4 Robins in our garden, they seem to be two pairs, one pair tries to chase off the other pair. We have moved feeders further apart so that they can feed without having to fight for it.

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  • 5. At 4:58pm on 09 Jan 2010, littlejojo61 wrote:

    Snow Watch - what a great idea.
    Have been trying really hard to look after the birds in our area during the big freeze but could certainly do with some reassurance that we're doing all we can. Still very difficult to get out of our Cotswold village and rapidly running out of provisions for our visitors, not to mention ourselves.
    Like other contributors have been really surprised by the changes we have noted in the birds behaviour - lots of really agressive and territorial posturing - are they not wasting lots of precious energy?
    By the way Martin, our birds don't seem to like your suggestion of apples - haven't touched them!

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  • 6. At 5:38pm on 09 Jan 2010, Ian Brown wrote:

    I've noticed more birds have started flocking together that don't usually. Such as great tits and blackbirds that i thought were territorial.

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  • 7. At 5:40pm on 09 Jan 2010, Ian Brown wrote:

    Also i have seen redwings and fielfares in the fields around my house but only the redwing are coming to my garden why might this be?

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  • 8. At 12:00pm on 10 Jan 2010, karen wrote:

    hello, my name is Karen, we have two pairs of long tailed tits in our garden feeding from our feeders they are a wonderful sight as we have never seen them before most of our morning is now taken up watching these delightful little birds.

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  • 9. At 10:27pm on 11 Jan 2010, mina wrote:

    I was watching the birds in my garden Sunday just gone 10th. I noticed a bird in the garden I had never seen before.
    I looked it up in my book on birds and found it was a redwing. I even checked on the internet to make sure it was redwing and that I hadn't got it wrong.
    Is it common to get a bird like the redwing in gardens? Then today as I was walking into work. I noticed another one in the front garden of the care home I work in. I live in Chippenham Wiltshire.
    Will I see any more of these birds?


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  • 10. At 11:03am on 12 Jan 2010, kermi wrote:

    my garden is criss-crossedwith a wonderful collection of animal and bird tracks. It would be wonderful to know where I can identify them.

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  • 11. At 12:01pm on 12 Jan 2010, Fircone wrote:

    We had about 9 inches of snow here in Berkshire last Wednesday,which is still on the ground, and this weekend I had a large flock of redwings and fieldfares (probably 2 dozen of each) in and around the garden - the redwings stripping the pyracantha berries, and the fieldfares mainly looking on - though some did take some of the remaining crab apples on my tree.

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  • 12. At 4:15pm on 12 Jan 2010, Evielane wrote:

    I, like many others, have had my garden invaded by Fieldfares (and the odd Redwing). Now I've just driven across the Mendips and there seems to be flocks of Fieldfares everywhere you look up there.

    My question is are these just "our" Fieldfares on the move looking for food, or has there been a further influx from the north and east in a vain search for milder conditions?

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  • 13. At 8:56pm on 12 Jan 2010, chillicockatoo wrote:

    We've been putting out lots more food and water for the birds everyday. Had lots of starlings, blackbirds, finches of all sorts, redwings and thrushes. But also seen 4 snipe which landed in the garden one morning late last week, they hopped up the driveway and through the undergrowth for a few moments poking their long beaks into the snow before they were frightened away by a mistle thrush. What beautiful birds snipe are, have never seen them before except on spring/autumnwatch - do they normally visit gardens in harsh weather?

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  • 14. At 08:02am on 13 Jan 2010, 122abcdefghi wrote:

    The robin that flew into the window returned this week.The cat hadn't attacked it.Being a neighbours cat(hurrah) and not wild after all may mean it leaves the birds alone(being well fed by its owner),hopefully!
    Looking forward to Snow Watch.

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  • 15. At 09:52am on 13 Jan 2010, Evielane wrote:

    Just thought I'd add a quick tip for saving money and time when the birds need so much extra food.
    I'm preparing a mixture of rolled oats, sultanas and crushed peanuts mixed with melted lard the night before, and at first light justlaying it out with chopped up old apples on plastic picnic trays on top of the snow. All the starving ground feeders are loving it. I'm also using a rotation of water containers so I can put down fresh bowls of water and remove the old ones to defrost rather than smashing and defrosting the bird baths every time.
    It's saves a fortune in proprietary bird feeds when extra is needed, and it speeds the freezing early morning restock up consdiderably.

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  • 16. At 11:22am on 13 Jan 2010, LazyRizzo wrote:

    I've been watching and trying to photograph redwing and fieldfares in my dad's garden, he lives about 15 minutes walk from me but has a huge garden that is sort of wild, and all the old windfall apples are piled up at the end under the hedge. The fieldfares and redwings (and blackbirds) are loving them.
    BUT - I am excited to report a fieldfare in my own small suburban garden, helping the blackbirds strip the last of the berries off the pyracanthra bush. It was only there for half an hour or so and hasn't come back (yet) but I have never seen one in my garden before.

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  • 17. At 4:32pm on 13 Jan 2010, Conan Mc Donnell wrote:

    hi Martin and team..! I live in Ireland just outside Limerick city in a suburban area which backs on to the river Shannon. In five years in my house this is the first time i've had both red wings and a bossy fieldfare visit my garden, feasting on apple slices. The field fare had some problems with the resident blackbird but after a bitter fight the fieldfare won and is marching around all day proud as you like. I managed to get a photo of the action which i will put on flikr.
    Last week I noticed the house sparrows collecting feathers and other nesting material which I thought was a bit early. Is this just good housekeeping?
    I've also had gold, green and upto 15 chaffinches in my small garden along with occasional visits from reed buntings and meadow pipits.

    (also the usual collared doves, wood pigeons, grey and hooded crows, jackdaws and increasing number of black headed gulls, a wren, pied wagtail, robin, dunnock, blue and great tits, wrens and of course no shortage of starlings.

    On a sad note i've seen a dead blackbird frozen and encased on the river ice. Also while walking in local woodland i found another blackbird alive but unable to move. i tried giving him water and seed but he died a short time after.

    I counted 36 magpies in 3 trees, not terribly unusual but a new personal record.

    However, the most unusual thing i saw was a birds egg on the side of a path near the river. it was almost fully entact, quite large (as big a small hens eggg, blue-green (peppermint) with no mottling or spots. it was under a hawthorn with heavy ivy growth. i can't understand why birds would be brooding at this time......?

    its a shame i will miss the show tonight and in ireland we can't access the bbc i-player. hopefully there will be a repeat....

    Cheers from Ireland!

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  • 18. At 6:15pm on 13 Jan 2010, rosie wrote:

    Hi there

    We have noticed , amongst the many birds coming to the table and feeders, what looks like a juvenile robin. Its red on its face and down to the top of its breast and then the colour fades to spotty stripey beige and brown. It feeds and behaves like a robin.

    Can it be a juvenile so late in the year?

    More cheers from Ireland, this time West Limerick (near Templeglantine)

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  • 19. At 8:35pm on 13 Jan 2010, Barbara Juhel wrote:

    How can I feed ground feeding birds and foxes without attracting rats to my garden? We know there are rats in the area but have been reluctant to poison them.

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  • 20. At 9:21pm on 13 Jan 2010, Robert Weir wrote:

    Why are the Great Tits singing and showing nesting behaviour so early with all the cold weather ?

    One male has been singing regularly in the gardens at the back of my house in Tamworth since Dec 14th !

    He is not alone - I have heard others out in the wider contryside.

    Yesterday I saw a pair nest prospecting in my back garden.

    Is this situation peculiar to Great Tits this year, or are there other species doing similar things ?

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  • 21. At 9:22pm on 13 Jan 2010, Charley wrote:

    An excellent programme, I wasn't aware that the birds need fresh water, I will have to find a bath for them.

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  • 22. At 11:04am on 17 Jan 2010, rosie wrote:

    We have fed ground feeders by putting up ground up peanuts (coffee grinder) and oats soaked in water on the compost in derelict window boxes on the windowsills. It seems to have worked well for our birds. I worried it might encourage them to fly into the window but that hasn't happened more than it does normally. Thankfully thats only ocasionally. Its worth trying.

    We have had no rats but our 4 dogs might have something to do with that.

    Good luck


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