A lesser-known aspect of bird Nesting Boxes is that some birds will use them in winter as roosting sites. As I have described before, Wrens will sometimes gather at dusk to share a box for the night. Tits however, at least Blue Tits and Great Tits, will roost for the night as single individuals. They just fluff themselves out on the floor of the box, in a corner. I have used a small nestbox camera to watch tits nesting in the spring, but a neighbour tells me he has watched these roosting birds in the same way in winter – it is fascinating to see these little insights into their lives. By February tits may already be beginning to prospect boxes for nesting purposes, so don’t leave it much longer to clean them out.
I have had reports again of Nuthatches at garden bird feeders, both from Sweffling and Rendham, taking seeds or nuts. They are not particularly rare in the area, but are mostly seen and heard in woodland. For instance, they are always calling in spring around the Walled Garden nursery in Benhall. What intrigues me about them is the way they can cling to tree bark head downwards, and also move downwards (unlike the other tree trunk climbers, Woodpeckers and Tree Creepers, which support themselves with their tails and so usually move head upwards).
A new year wander along the Alde (Sweffling/Benhall) turned up a Grey Wagtail feeding at the edge of the water. These birds are not common in Suffolk; they prefer fast-flowing streams further North and West for breeding, but they do turn up here occasionally in the winter. Indeed, there was one in December in a garden in Sweffling (perhaps influenced by the nearness of the drainage gull.) Look out for them. They are more colourful than their name implies, the ‘grey’ being an attractive warm blue-grey on the upperside. The underside is pale yellow but the rear end is a bright lemon yellow and is the feature that most draws attention.
Big numbers of Rooks and Jackdaws have been gathering in the middle of the winter to roost in the woods towards Benhall. By now the Rooks at least will be spending more time in their own rookeries in Rendham. They will be spending the night there, and showing signs of gathering twigs and other nesting behaviour. Rooks nest early – they will usually be laying eggs before the middle of March.
The Fallow Deer I mentioned recently have been more evident in the last couple of months, especially around the top of Holden’s Lane and in the Direction of Framlingham. They are very variable in colour: three are very dark, almost black, and one extremely pale, almost white. Finally, if you doubt that spring is coming, check out the catkins on the Hazel bushes. In many places they are already out, and the catkins of the Alder trees will not be far behind.