January came in with a severe frost and freezing nights, harsh down to minus 20. North easterlies blew until about the 11th of the month. From then on there has been at best a mixture of some sunny days but many very wet nights and days.
We have enjoyed two sets of births. Our lovely female puma Demelza has given birth to twins on the 4th January. Unfortunately, one of them had a slightly mis-formed foot and was born with a bare patch where his foot should have been. Otherwise he is perfectly happy and fit. Fortunately, one of our volunteers has taken on his initial care and might take him on permanently if she can be granted a ‘Dangerous Animal Licence’. Sam is obviously delighted to care for him and has taken many photos, some of which we attach to this report.
The sibling having all his mother’s milk is growing fast and came out of his box and into the outside pen after twelve days.
I noted in my diary that Cornwall came into Tier Three from Tier One on the 1st January. At the time there were some fifty thousand deaths recorded and it was running at one thousand new cases per day. The figures at the time of writing are well over one hundred thousand deaths, only after upwards of two thousand deaths per day are things just beginning to improve.
The rusty spotted cats, although they were old enough to breed, did not breed last year. However, Pixie advised us that the female was very fat by Tuesday 13th January. On Sunday 17th January the ‘rusties’ did not come out for their food as normal, but had eaten all the previous days provisions. I was unable to see into their box but from their demeaner of spitting and anger, I felt sure they had produced.
However, since cats sometimes eat their first litter if worried, we decided not to inspect too carefully. On Thursday 28th, some ten days later, I finally inspected the boxes and found that the male and female were guarding two tiny spotted ‘rusties’. They were fit and fat and just opening their eyes, so this confirms their birth date of the 17th January 2021. We took photos; they too are attached.
Through the goodwill of our veterinary friend Rhianon, who is connected to a small charity rescuing dogs, we were introduced to a lady called Sally, who had two recently rescued two dogs from a pound in Spain. One is a yellow two year old labrador and the other a black labrador, bull mastiff cross. We agreed to have both. We have been trying for a ‘rescue’ in England and had no luck in the last twelve months – a bit like buses.
On Saturday 9th, we went to collect the black Labrador cross from the volunteer foster home. Apparently he was called Spud. However, he did not know his name, so we renamed him Durrell after the famous conservationist I knew in my early days in Jersey where I used to volunteer at the zoo he formed.
Durrell is magnificent; mainly black with a white flash on his chest and tiny spots on the back of his rear legs. When I first saw him I was surprised to see how big he was and he had slightly frightened eyes, as he was introduced to us. It was clear his foster carers had formed a good relationship and were very sad to see him leave.
Cherry sat in the back of the car with Durrell on his bed on the journey back to Tredivett Mill. At first Durrell was very nervous but settled as we neared home. I introduced Durrell to our lovely six year old chocolate Labrador, Tilly, she is so gentle it would be hard not to get on and they accepted one another immediately although on the first night we separated them.
The following morning I took Durrell for his first walk. He was nervous and I led him on two leads, one attached to his collar and the other a slip rope lead. He behaved well. He initially did not like men or other dogs.
Already by the month end he ignores dogs and accepts men if introduced carefully. He has become my shadow after just three weeks and enjoys his morning walk of about an hour enormously.
On our morning walk as usual I have observed nature of all kinds.
List of birds seen are as follows; blackbird, song thrush, robin, blue tit, great tit, coal tit, great spotted woodpecker, wood pigeons, collared dove, buzzard, rook, carrier crow, nuthatch, goldfinch, chaffinch, magpie, long tailed tit, wren, mallard, Canada goose, heron, herring gull, house sparrow.
The song thrush, robin, collared dove and wood pigeon were all singing or cooing, on 12th January.
Chaffinches started singing on 21st January, nuthatches and small tits started to call around the 17th and 18th January.
I saw a few mammals, mainly rabbits and grey squirrels. In a badger run across the lane after heavy rain there were noticeable badger paw prints and a fox foot print. The same day I saw imprints made by a roe deer in the mud. I collected many nuts gnawed by mice and found a stoats skull. Because most of our mammals are mainly nocturnal it is often easier to find tell tale signs.
I attach an appendix of animal tracks and signs.
In this very wet period the lichens are doing well and when blown down by storms I have collected several. There is a picture of lichens, stoat skull and hazelnuts gnawed by mice as well as empty and broken snail shells found where a song thrust regularly eats them.
Thrushes used to use a heavy stone as an anvil and thrash the snail on it, breaking the shell and thus exposing the flesh. Now it appears they have learnt to pull out the live snail without smashing its home.
With regard to flowers, the first primroses were flowering before 1st January, first celandine flowered on 11th January and the first wild daffodil (or lents) on 29th January.
In spite of the snowdrop’s reputation, our first wild snowdrop flowered on 13th January.
While we are on ‘firsts’, song thrushes and robins have been singing almost all winter but certainly all of January. Other ‘firsts’ include:
Greater spotted woodpecker ‘drumming’ on 14th January 2021
First chaffinch singing on the 22nd January 2021
First siskin on hangers outside bedroom on 29th January 2021
First mistle thrush singing on 23rd January 2021
First frog spawn seen on 29th January 2021
ON Saturday 16th January no less than six magpies flying around the garden early in the morning. In dull weather these birds just look drab, black and white. In sunlight however the black turns into metallic greens, purples and blues. They are absolutely stunning birds which make magnificent nests from twigs, often prickly on the exterior. They then cover this with a roof of impenetrable thorny sticks and twigs leaving just a small entry opening.
Seeing six jogged my memory and put me in mind of the folk poem about such birds:
One for sorrow
Two for joy
Three for a girl
Four for a boy
Five for silver
Six for gold
Seven for a secret never to be told.
One of the earliest versions was published in London in 1846 and it went:
One for sorrow
Two for mirth
Three for a funeral
Four for a birth
Five for heaven
Six for hell
Seven for the devil his own self.
Another bird we have heard all through January, even in the middle of the day, is the tawny owl. I have heard up to three tawny males and some females all at the same time. One of these males flew right over me, Pixie my keeper and a volunteer, Natalie at about 5pm one evening, barely dark, but he was obviously annoyed at hearing another male near his territory.
On Tuesday 25th when taking Durrell for a walk, a weasel ran across our lane. At the same time a buzzard, which must have been watching the little carnivore, the smallest in Britain, flew away as we disturbed him (it was a male, somewhat smaller than females of the species).
A couple of days later a bird, which I think was the same buzzard, was watching many rabbits feeding and sunning in the early morning warmth. I did not see him at first and eventually only after he was disturbed. No doubt he would blame Durrell and me for ruining his breakfast.
On Sunday 24th, walking for about an hour with Durrell, I counted nineteen robins. The night before had snowed hard and the weather had been generally cold. I think the reason must be that robins do not migrate, as do swallows, but do tend to move south in cold snaps.
The following day, the 25th January, I only counted eleven on exactly the same walk at the same time and only seven the next day.
On the 26th of the month, we picked up six red necked wallabies from our friends at the Otter Sanctuary.
These are fascinating creatures, sometimes called Bennett’s Wallaby, they are a medium sized macropod and as other wallabies and kangaroos, are a very specialised marsupial. Originally coming from Eastern Australia and Tasmania, they have now been introduced to Britain. It is distinguished from other wallabies by its black paws and nose, white stripe on its upper lip and grizzled medium grey coat with the reddish covering around its neck, hence its common name. Their original habitat is coastal scrub but they easily adapt to fields with scrubby edges or open moorland where they are found in the U.K. particularly. Being mainly nocturnal in the wild they are not seen often.
The female bears one youngster at a time, and the youngster stays in the pouch for about 270 days, develops from a very underdeveloped morsel into a miniature of its mother.
The main areas seen in the U.K. are the Peak District in Derbyshire or Ashdown Forest in East Sussex. There are also sightings of small colonies in West Sussex and Hampshire. I have personally seen them near the rowing town of Henley-on-Thames. There are also colonies on the Island of Bute, Loch Lomond and the Isle of Man.
Since they are a recognised wild animal in Britain it is useful and meaningful to our conservancy.
As I finish this first report of the new year 2021, the number of Covid deaths has doubled to well over 110,000. The number has doubled in 31 days. It may be natures way of telling us we are overpopulating the world and our own islands. We are treating our world with disdain. We should all try harder to cut down waste, especially eliminate careless plastic waste, use less wrapping, buy more natural foods; never light fires in the wild which can get out of hand.
On a local level eliminating the use of slug pellets and the careless use of strawberry netting, will slow down the fall in numbers of hedgehogs, as will not lighting bonfires without taking apart and rebuilding. Many animals, insects and amphibians all love living in piles of old wood i.e., bonfires.
And even in the smallest garden we can grow a suitable tree. Trees are the lungs of the earth. The more we can plant and grow, the healthier our habitats will become.
Planting natural flowers and wild flowers will help in the same way.
I hope with the vaccine jabs over ten million at the time of writing we are well on our way to herd immunity. Please all take care and stay safe.