Saturday, 9 January 2010

Colder than Antarctica?

During the week in Oxfordshire it reached -170C which is apparently colder than the current average temperature in Antarctica and it has presented other opportunities for a healthy walk to work and to take more pictures.

The very low temperatures have also created some impressive icicles

It's been a great time for pictures, snowball fights and snowmen, it has started me thinking what the effect would be on the wildlife I've been following for the past few months.

The small birds in the vicinity should be OK as lots of people feed the birds in their garden - the number of chaffinches has increased over the past few days and for the first time ever, we've had fieldfares visit the garden. This is as well as the usual collection of blackbirds, sparrows, great tits, goldfinches and  house sparrows.
Unfortunately, it is has probably been harder for birds of prey - red kites and buzzards often feed on earthworms at this time of year as well as carrion, both of which would be hard to find in this weather.  This excellent post from Spot (already a candidate for next years blog roll) shows the problems with low flying raptors: who are weak and trying to find sources of food.
It is possible to feed red kites and buzzards - as some in the Chilterns do  - but there are strict guidelines and there is the risk of regular feeding causing dietary problems. For more information:,566,AR.html. And probably shouldn't be encouraged in urban areas due to the risk of attracting vermin.

The garden pond has been covered with snow and when broken each day for the birds to drink from it has been 5cm thick, in fact the pond weed is frozen into the ice and breaks when the pond is broken

Dr Jeremy Briggs has answered some of my pond questions and concerns in this blog post It seems the oxygen producing pond weed will recover, but the pond snails and the rat tailed maggots ( may not fend so well.
The pond conservation trust has issued a press release on managing ponds in the cold weather: in summary, clear the snow (if safe), but don't worry about breaking the ice.

The Ock itself is still flowing but the water voles will have had a hard time of it - they don't hibernate, but instead shelter in their burrows where they can have a store of food and occasionally venture out for feeding. The harsh weather and recent high waters may have affected their ability to forage and caused possible drownings - unless they've moved location...
Any badgers in the locality would be tucked into their setts, having stocked up on food during autumn so unless they need to find food should not be impacted unless they need to forage.
The rabbits are probably in a similar situation, although this may impact on their predators - foxes and any stoats or weasels.

Unlike water voles, queen bumblebees do hibernate and I've been in touch with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust ( who have told me there isn't any detailed research on the effect of severe cold weather on British bumblebees. Although there is an Arctic bumblebee (bombus polaris) - so bumblebees can survive in severe weather. A British queen will store enough reserves to make it through the winter, but in this extra cold weather she might shiver her flight muscles to create warmth, but the risk is if the cold snap continues she may run out of energy and die. Especially if her hibernating site isn't deep enough.
More information can be found at

Since I started writing this blog post the BBC have announced a special to their Autumnwatch / Springwatch series called 'Snow watch'; it will be on BBC2 on Wednesday 13th January on BBC2 (

But it won't be till spring till we see what the affect this cold spell has had on the local wildlife.


  1. I've been topping up the bird feeders and water twice a day and get regular visits from robins, blue tits, great tits, blackbirds,thrushes and sparrows. Unfortunately I also get pigeons which hoover up everything in sight so I use one of those ground cage thingies which keeps them out but allows the smaller birds access.

  2. thanks for the reminder about WAB, I was already registered with them but I had forgotten about the site because there were no replies to my first query! Anyway, the mystery tracks are now a new thread.