Freeze frame

It might be get­ting cold out­side, but life goes on.

Country Walking Magazine (UK) - - Contents -

It might be get­ting cold out­side, but life goes on un­der the ice.

IT’S AL­WAYS WORTH brav­ing the chill to see spec­tac­u­lar scenes like this: a frosted land­scape sparkling in the win­ter sun. The coun­try­side seems frozen, as if time has stopped. But you’d be wrong to think there’s no life here.

A flurry of snow drops from a tree as a flock of field­fares and redwings ar­rive. They’ve trav­elled here from Ice­land and Scan­di­navia in search of berries to see them through the colder months. High in the canopy they have a good van­tage point to sur­vey the hedgerows for bright red hips and haws, which they’ll quickly strip be­fore mov­ing on.

The snow pro­vides cover for voles and mice who can bur­row through, un­seen by the kestrels and owls that might be keep­ing an eye out for them. In the soil be­low, moles are ac­tive too, but win­ter can be tough for these ex­pert ex­ca­va­tors. Many of the earth­worms they want to eat will have dug much fur­ther down to es­cape the cold, so to keep them go­ing moles will have made them­selves a larder. A mole will chew off the heads of hun­dreds of worms which stops them crawl­ing away but keeps them fresh through­out the win­ter! There will be mam­mals up and about above the snow too: look care­fully and you may find tracks of badgers, foxes and deer.

The sur­face of the lake may have a thick icy crust but around the edges dab­bling wa­ter­birds will do their best to keep a patch of open wa­ter clear. Geese and swans, with their con­sid­er­able weight, can help smaller birds get to their aquatic food by break­ing the ice. There’s frost on the out­side, but deep in the lake­side veg­e­ta­tion there’s a mi­cro­cli­mate warmed by de­cay­ing leaves. Tiny in­sects and spi­ders scut­tle up the stems, where robins, wrens, and dun­nocks may pick them off. One of the few mem­bers of its fam­ily to over­win­ter in the UK, the Cetti’s war­bler, also sur­vives on bugs hid­ing among the reeds.

Be­neath the wa­ter, fish like stick­le­back, rudd, tench, pike and eel will still be swim­ming. Life at the bot­tom will have slowed right down. Un­der­wa­ter an­i­mals that are still ac­tive like cad­dis­fly and dragon­fly lar­vae will be mov­ing at a more leisurely pace than they would in spring and sum­mer. Oth­ers will be nes­tled deeper in the mud, in­clud­ing frogs and newts which are able to take in oxy­gen from the wa­ter through their skin.

 Take a win­ter walk on an RSPB re­serve for scenes like this: rspb.org.uk/re­serves

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