One of the hardest things about winter for me is the lack of life about the farm. Not only is garden barren, and the vegetable plot laying fallow, but the wildlife is absent too. I can just about cope with the gloomy days, sunless skies, and dark nights, but it’s the emptiness that I find the hardest.
It’s minus 4 here today and not quite light yet, but the only wild creatures brave enough to be out and about are the pair of cock pheasants who roost here, and the blackbird.
I can’t blame the majority of my wild friends for sleeping their way through the worst of the weather, and on days like this I wish I could hibernate too. So, if like me, you are missing some familiar fauna, here are just a few of my visitors from this last year who will be hibernating somewhere on the farm.
The Common Frog normally lives in a wide range of habitats, and breeds in puddles, ditches and ponds, and has even been known to breed in running water.
Hunting on damp nights, frogs eat slugs and worms – plenty enough of those in my garden! Common frogs hibernate through the winter, either at the bottom of ponds (breathing through their skin) or on land under refuges such as the woodpile or compost heap.
Pipistrelle Bats are active between March and November, hunting and eating insects on the wing in open spaces between the trees. Pipistrelles roost in trees and under the soffits of the farm buildings. They feed along the woodland edges and in the garden. They hibernate in crevices in buildings and trees as well as in our bat boxes.
Hedgehogs travel over a mile a night whilst foraging for food. They have a broad diet, including worms, slugs, caterpillars and many other invertebrates, as well as frogs, berries and the eggs and chicks of ground-nesting birds. It is an interesting fact that, due to a variable resistance to adder venom, hedgehogs can even attack and eat adders. They are good swimmers and can also run fairly quickly. They hibernate in a nest made of leaves, usually under the shed or log pile.
Ladybirds are perhaps the most well known and popular of all British beetles, and the seven-spot ladybird is one of the commonest species, although some individuals may have more or fewer spots. The common name, 'ladybird', was originally given to the seven-spot in honour of the Virgin Mary; the red wing cases symbolising the Virgin's red cloak, with the seven spots representing her seven joys and seven sorrows. Both adults and larvae are voracious predators of aphids, and are one of the gardener's greatest natural allies. When threatened, adults exude a bright yellow distasteful substance from the joints of the legs, which dissuades potential predators from them. Adults can be found overwintering in the garden shed, amongst vegetation and in crevices in the post and rail fences. They are often clustered together in fairly large numbers during this time of year.