Well, that’s a fair summary of the weather this winter- seemingly weekly westerly storms, lots of rain, wind and the temperature rarely dropping below zero. But what does it mean for the reserve’s wildlife?
As usual, there are winners and losers in any weather. Although there isn’t much food around, at least small birds like wrens, tits and goldcrests don’t have to contend with really low temperatures. Three years ago it was -18 0C here and a tiny bird will need all of its energy just to stay alive. Goldcrests (along with firecrests, which we don’t get here) are Britain’s smallest bird and only weight about 6 grams – the same as a 10p coin, or a heaped teaspoon of sugar. The milder weather has made it much easier for the small birds to survive the winter.
I’ve also heard the phrase “great weather for ducks” quite a bit this winter. Well, that’s true. The incessant rain has opened up far more wetland habitats for them and there are wet “flashes” in all the local fields. There are good numbers of lovely wigeon and teal on Loch Davan right now but, for some species like mallard, we are recording much lower numbers that I’d expect on the reserve. We suspect all this extra water is to “blame” –the ducks aren’t as reliant on the reserve as normal – they can feed and roost on wet areas elsewhere which aren’t normally wet! Ducks love feeding in wet grassland. The lack of ice on the lochs has helped the ducks, they have open water to roost safely from predators. This means that there are no nocturnal visits from Mister Fox, sneaking out onto the ice to grab a duck or goose – I’ll often find remains of these birds after the lochs have been partly frozen.
However, some animals are ‘losers’ in the mild weather. Animals that hibernate need really cold temperatures to achieve torpor- a very low metabolic state – and, if they can’t do that, may use up their fat stores too quickly and die. Other animals, especially those that live underground, may find themselves flooded out, or in the worst case, drowned in their holes. Rabbits, moles and other small mammals can suffer from this, while otter mortalities can also increase. Not because they drown, but there are often pipes and culverts under roads they use, which are now full of water. So they cross the road instead and get hit by cars.
Whatever the weather does, some animals will always benefit, while others suffer. Seeing as it’s not too cold, why not put yourself in the “benefit” pile and come and see us for a nice healthy walk?