Winter on League's wildlife sanctuaries

The constant frenzy of bird activity around the feeding stations on Baronsdown throughout the daylight hours is a good indication that food supplies elsewhere are running low. Every morsel of food that falls to the ground from the feeders above is eagerly ceased upon by less agile bird species, such as Chaffinch and the ubiquitous pheasants. During quieter moments a Bank Vole may make a quick dash from its hiding place into the open to grab a fallen seed, before racing back to safety. Grey Squirrels too join the melee and there are often uneasy stand-offs between them and the pheasants. Even wild rabbits take advantage of the free food supply.

The Red Deer that are an ever present feature of the League sanctuaries are now sporting their dark winter coats to match the conditions. Short days and low light levels mean there is little nutritional value even in the plants that retain a bit of green foliage. The deer compensate as best they can by slowing their metabolism and moving around less, which is one reason why the peace and quiet of the League sanctuaries is so important to them.

Logging the movements of other mammals on the League sanctuaries during winter months, means searching for telltale footprints in patches of mud or faeces left as markers on molehills, rocks or along fence lines. Trail cameras that can take still or moving images day or night set in likely places help to confirm what the field signs have indicated. They also catch the odd, uninvited human visitor.

As the sun sets over Baronsdown thousands of starlings swoop low over the fields as they head back to their night time roost in a plantation of conifers. Pheasants, Carrion Crows and Ravens go noisily to roost in the woods too, along with hundreds of Wood Pigeons. Then it is time for Tawny Owls to start calling. It is breeding time for owls and they need to attract a mate no matter what the conditions. A good bit of owl mimicry at this time of year will often bring an inquisitive owl to a perch overhead, whilst it works out if you are a rival or a potential mate.

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