Our Patch: Red Sky at Night…

By on Tuesday, December 10, 2013

our_patch_sj_jarmanI can’t decide whether or not our proximity to industry is what causes these recent “Flash Gordon” sunrises and sunsets, but they are glorious!

Prescot Online has been inundated with beautiful examples of these streaked red skiessunrisesunset – and red streaking in the sky makes me want to head outdoors quickly before the inevitable rain comes.

As our house has been the epicentre of a tonsillitis outbreak, I’ve been out with the dog on my own, which means we’ve been deep in the woods and away from any paths. It’s my favourite kind of walking, because you can’t see too far ahead and never know what you might come across. It also gives me a little time to think and sort out the chaos in my brain (well… a bit, anyway).

jay_birdI’m happy to report that I finally got a photo of a Jay. Although a branch is obscuring its face, you can get an idea of why I am so enamoured with these shy and elusive crows. Pink and blue, black and white, beautiful and smart to boot.

One of the most interesting finds this week was a corpse in a copse. The dog disturbed something, and a rustle through the shrubbery was as close I got to see the assailant – perhaps a hawk or Kestrel, maybe a fox or stoat?

What was left behind was a recently deceased Common Shrew, but with no external indication as to how it was killed, which didn’t narrow the predator down any.

Shrews are fairly easy to identify, with their pointed faces and beady little eyes, and they also have a relatively short tail compared to other rodents, but I wanted a picture just to confirm my identification.

shrewThey have quite a reputation, too, as voracious and ferocious hunters of invertebrates, and I’ve even heard people suggest they will try to kill a bird, although I think that is a little fanciful.

I do know, from having handled them as a young nature lover, their bite is very accurate and very piercing, and they eat an astounding amount of insects, molluscs and worms every day.

Interestingly enough, the children were clamouring to be the first to see a photo of my macabre discovery, their thirst for knowledge and experience far greater than any squeamishness regarding the mortality of the subject.

On subsequent visits to this location I didn’t find the little shrew – whether it had been claimed back by its hunter or scavenged by an opportunist, it was no more to be found.

squirrel_cachesDeep in the woods, where the carpet of pine needles is thick, I found small patches of disturbed ground around the bases of trees – they are about the size of a ping-pong ball. I imagine Jays and squirrels have been storing their caches for the coming months.

There were also larger far less tidy areas with clear claw marks – I would suggest foxes have been taking advantage of this underground larder and scoffing the acorns which had so carefully been stowed.

The woods were full of small birds this week. There were many long-tailed tits in huge groups (30+), greenfinches, goldfinches, blue tits, great tits and even Yellowhammers – still in their full breeding plumage of bright yellow head and yellow-and-black-mottled bodies and wings.

They seem to be gathering together more and more, and I wonder if this is due to the shortening days – they don’t have as much time to disperse between roostings – or whether many eyes are a benefit when searching for food in these leaner times.

Either way, take yourself to a group of trees, stand still for a minute or two and listen. You’ll hear some cheeping sounds, and when you look towards the noise, you could see all sorts of small birds flitting and feeding.

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SJ, also known as Sarah and Sarah-Jane, held her dream job as a breastfeeding peer support worker until becoming a full-time mum of three. She still volunteers at Whiston Hospital.

In her spare time, SJ loves to read, and play cello with the Knowsley Youth Orchestra. She confesses to being a secret singer ever since hubby Trev bought her SingStar.

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