Overall we have not had a hard winter at all, the lowest temperature that we have recorded in Abernyte so far this winter has been -3 oC on 29th November. And on Hogmanay it was a balmy +7 oC. We’ve had a few frosts and no more than a couple of inches of snow over the winter. Our garden pond has been only frozen a few times in contrast to the situation in many winters when it remains frozen for weeks on end. But the higher temperatures have been made up by the windy conditions. We had Storm Arwen on night of 26th November when 82 kph was recorded at Errol and the Met office issued an Amber weather warning. And didn’t it blow. Many gardeners and landowners around Abernyte woke to devastation. Large trees and areas of dense forest were down all over Abernyte and the whole of the NE of Scotland and Northumberland as well as parts of the West Coast. Nearly all of the downed trees were conifers or others bearing leaves such as Eucalyptus. At Rossie Priory large Douglas Firs are down. A count of the rings of one of them gave it a venerable age of at least 114 years. Large areas at North Ballo have also been flattened. Not content with storm Arwen, that was followed in January by two more storms Malik and then Corrie on 30th January from a more usual direction. Despite the wind however, we have been lucky to have it relatively dry since Christmas and we have had some beautiful sunny days for walking, even if they were less frosty than usual.
We were encouraged to set a moth trap in our garden by the warm weather on Hogmanay. Moths are out and about most often on warm still and moist nights. There tend to be fewer of them flying on moonlit ones. The catch was small, but 5 moths of 3 species were captured – and later released. These have wonderful names – The Mottled Beauty, The Satellite – named for the little coloured celestial bodies on its wings and the Winter Moth. Moths have bad PR in general owing to the few of them which eat holes in woollens! But the rest of them are as beautiful as butterflies although often more subtle or cryptic. We couldn’t do without them to perform the essential service of pollination as well as providing food for birds and mammals.
Signs of Spring
It lifted the spirits when news of the traditional first signs of Spring, the snowdrops, popped up on Abernyte News earlier than usual. The ones by Rose Cottage in the village were declared out on the 19th January whereas in 2021 it was the 26th January. A short distance along the road at Southfield Bridge there were “wild” snowdrops out by the burn at about the same time. In 2021 the snowdrops were covered with snow as they came up through the ground.
Squirrels and Birds
Red Squirrels have been visiting Bryan and Elizabeth’s garden in Kinnaird regularly where there was also a Heron and some Bramblings. Barry ringed a lot of Bramblings during January. On 9th January he was very interested to find one with a Belgian ring, so that one has probably spent at least one winter or spring in Belgium; these birds spend their summer much further North and are not faithful to particular sites in winter. A Heron appearing beside our pond usually means that it is on the lookout for some juicy frogs coming to spawn. So far we have seen none ourselves but we are suspicious that the Heron has some inside knowledge! Have you got frogspawn in your garden pond yet? We have continued to hear Jays around Abernyte and wonder if the reason is that there was a poor acorn crop last summer causing them to look for food elsewhere. Other bird sightings have included news from David Tod of a Sparrowhawk in his garden and of both Hen and Marsh Harriers and Barn Owl around the Braes and Carse.
Some ideas to help wildlife this winter:
Plant seed or plant out seedlings of native plants. Foxgloves, Bugle, Viper’s Bugloss and Ground Ivy are all easily grown plants for pollinators. Garlic Mustard and Cuckoo Flower are two useful plants for butterflies. If you can have plants flowering from early Spring till Late Autumn it will help to provide for insects and other wildlife at lean times in the year.
Watch out for and avoid disturbing hedgehogs when they are hibernating. Leave some stacks of prunings for wildlife. Make a stack of wood rather than clearing it away.
Put out any rotten apples (if you were lucky enough to get a crop) for the birds.