A harsh winter ahead?

Weather folklore and the images below taken at the Royal Botanical Garden Edinburgh back in mid-October might suggest it just might be!

“When berries are many in October, beware a hard winter”

Myth or not, could nature really be providing more food for birds to survive a harsh winter? What about the birds themselves – do they recognise this bountiful crop of berries as a sign to eat up now and fast? I’m thinking they might do.

Cotoneaster on Chinese Hillside

Having seen the berries on my small Cotoneaster ‘Hybridus Pendulus’ tree being left too long on less harsh winters makes me think that the birds knew there was no hurry to eat them. Unfortunately the cold wasted the fruit these years.

Watching the birds in my garden over the last eight years has certainly shown me that bird species do pay attention to the feeding areas of the other birds in the garden. They appear to follow each other out of curiosity at the start but quickly learn new food sources.

Here’s a thought then, in bumper berry years do a wider variety of bird species recognise this extra food source nature has provided? Do the smaller birds, the seed feeders, notice there is more feeding on berries and see that as a signal to feed up more often? Again, I’m thinking they might.

For sure, birds appreciate high energy foods like fat cakes, fat balls, peanuts and sunflower hearts during cold days. The bustle of activity at the fat cakes and balls especially tell me that!

The harsh reality of a harsh winter is that birds don’t survive the night if they don’t feed enough during the day – sadly they perish. I might wonder if the birds know the fat cakes and fat balls are so valuable to their survival. Do they watch the clever species of birds and follow their lead? Have they learnt which species to gardenwatch?

There is certainly an abundance of weather folklore results on an internet search on the suggestion that an abundance of berries relate to a harsh winter. However, no stats or pie charts were to be found – perhaps Chris Packham will produce one on Springwatch next year 😉

Dwarf Rowan, Sorbus reducta

Many articles can be found on Waxwings feasting on berries here in the UK when Scandinavia has had a shortage. These special visitors have caused quite a media stir in recent years.

Twitter users tweet sightings under the hashtag #waxwings and @WaxwingsUK track and notify all Waxwing sightings in the UK. I’ll be keeping an eye on twitter and will be gardenwatching the mature tree seen from my window where they have been spotted in previous years. My last sighting was in November 2010

Scottish flame flower, Tropaeolum speciosum

Brrr… as we move into the month of December tomorrow, the weather forecast tonight suggests our temps will be dropping a bit. Ha-ha… living here in Scotland that isn’t making me rush around trying to find hat, scarf and gloves – yet 😉

In view of a possible harsh winter I have been stocking up on high energy foods for my garden visitors. Berries or not, I’m ready. I’m also working on a potting shed experiment for storing the food which I’ll come back to another day 😉

The warm colours of Autumn could soon be a distant memory by the end of the week – potentially. This final burst of colour just had to happen tonight. However, potentially by the end of the week colourful new garden visitors could be following the current fat cake crowds of House Sparrows! How exciting 🙂

Well… brrrrr! I’ve just popped out in car to collect daughter from bus stop to find back car window frosted and the car temp reading 3 deg C! Ha-ha… I went out without a coat on and didn’t feel cold until I saw the little warning crystals come up on the temperature display – the power of suggestion 😉

Coming back to gardenwatching, what fun it can be at this time of year – I do so love it! What do you enjoy about this time of year? What new garden visitors might you expect to see? Little gardenwatching was done here over a busy weekend – so no sighting or video footage yet to report on our newest visitor 🙂

Copyright: Original post published on https://www.shirlsgardenwatch.co.uk/ by blog author Shirley, November 30th 2014.

6 thoughts on “A harsh winter ahead?

  1. We have been quite busy here this weekend too. I love the berries this time of year. They don't seem to last long here. I should plant more I guess.

  2. I've held of putting out the suet logs until it gets a bit colder Shirley. For now there is plenty to go around.
    This is the first year in my garden that I've spotted birds feeding on berries. They probably have done before but I struggled to notice as the plants were very small.
    I'd love to see the pair of Linnets that visited my garden a couple of years back return. I've also noticed that although the goldfinches are about they are not visiting the feeders yet.
    I treated the birds to another feeding station, so that's 2 now. It will be costing me a fortune to keep them going.
    I hope you get to see the waxwings this year.

  3. The female Black Cap arrived on our bird table 3 days ago. This is earlier than last year here in Worcestershire. Does this mean colder weather is on its way?

  4. Hello everyone, thanks for all your comments. Hoping its not too chilly with you just now 🙂

    Lisa, it’s nice to be busy 🙂 The berries do add a bit of something special at this time of year don’t they? I keep saying I should plant more too – this year I did, another Cotoneaster Hybridus Pendulus in my front garden to replace a tired bamboo. It’s a shame the winds battered it not long after planting – fingers crossed it survives 🙂

    Adrian, I’m thinking the same on both counts 🙂

    Sue, ah… I’m remembering that you do… fingers crossed tightly that you get your wishes 🙂

    Angie, yes, in previous years I have held back too. This year, I’m lucky to have a gift box of fat balls (from friend) so the birds have been lucky too! I agree, sometimes we don’t notice activity like the birds feeding on berries but once we do we will look out for it every year. Ah… I remember your linnet sightings well (made a special note of this seeing as I’m just over the water from you). Having been in Edinburgh today and felt the cooler temp I’m guessing the Goldfinches may have been feeding today 🙂 Ah yes… the more feeding stations you have the more pennies you need to keep them going. However, the entertainment you get in return is worth it (I think anyway). What fun sightings could be ahead if we do get a harsh winter 😀

    Brian, ah… you being in Worchester I’m not too sure of an answer for you on the Blackcaps. Our sightings have been late December, in January and in February. Interestingly, I received my very first blog comment after posting on our first Blackcap visitor. My first thoughts were that your sighting could be from a summer breeding pair that has stayed around. However, I also had an email back in December 2010 you might find interesting: “I am a scientist working on blackcap in Germany. Last year I found that those German blackcaps that are migrating in autumn to the UK to feed on the garden feeders are in a process of genetic isolation from their blackcap neighbours that migrate towards the traditional winter quarters in Spain. I would like to ask you whether I may use one of your wonderful pictures showing the female blackcap feeding on your feeders for a presentation that I would like to give on the migration of blackcaps. This presentation is at a scientific conference in Sweden. The conference is a non-profit conference.” Perhaps your Blackcap is one of those and if so it might not signal colder weather coming to you for the moment – that’s just a guess on my part though so don’t hold me to it 😉

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