Thursday, 17 January 2013

Black Winter Freezes to his Seat

Norway Spruce viewed from my
bedroom window. 17 January, 2013
There is understandable concern about the current spell of harsh weather and its effects upon our wildlife. I am old enough to recall, albeit patchily, the dreadful winter of 1947 and can remember train after train - steam engines of course, belching out vast quantities of smoke and steam - slogging through blizzard conditions to get desperately needed coal supplies to London. Milk bottles stood on the doorstep with their tops pushed off as the contents turned to ice and expanded. Many birds such as Kingfisher and Grey Heron, with virtually all lakes and rivers frozen solid, surely must have perished in great numbers - and yet they recovered.

These thoughts passed through my mind as I replenished the grain and nuts at my bird-feeding station. A dozen species have paid a visit during the past 24 hours and a flock of Long-tailed Tits numbering 10 or 12 or so has hung around all day, making visit after visit to this food source; if the bitter conditions continue this food could be the difference between survival and death.

In the case of insects, they'll have to fend for themselves. Insect bodies contain antifreeze proteins (AFP's). These are polypeptides which afford a considerable measure of protection but will those insects which have moved northward to colonise Britain in recent years, such as the Violet Carpenter Bee, have the required level of AFP's to survive? If this very cold spell persists then recording insects over the coming few months will be very interesting. 

Incidentally hundreds of viewers have contacted me about the title for this particular blog (Tony, don't tell lies!). It is from a sixteenth century poem called "Shine Out" by that prolific writer Anon, and forms the wonderful introduction to Benjamin Britten's Spring Symphony.

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