I suppose it had to happen sooner or later. The first snow flurries of the winter arrived on Sunday while I was out and about doing my monthly duck count. I was at the extremely high and exposed site of Lindean Reservoir when they arrived and the accompanying wind cut like a knife.
There was very little on the water to trouble my mathematics – only three swans and two mallards, so my attention wandered elsewhere.
I couldn’t help noticing that loads of new nest boxes had appeared since my last visit a month ago. With there being few mature trees round the loch with suitable nest holes, it was good to see the Ranger Service providing places for hole-nesting birds to take up residence. It wasn’t just birds that were being catered for, as I also noticed several bat boxes too. These differ from the avian variety in that they have no obvious entry holes and they are usually erected in clusters around the tree trunks. As well as the usual tit boxes, I also noticed a much bigger owl box, so they too are being catered for.
While wandering through the woodland looking at the new boxes, I also came upon an older one which had been put up previously. This particular one was a tit box, but the hole had been enlarged to almost the size of a tennis ball. The rim of the hole was jagged and had been made bigger for a purpose. This was the work of the great spotted woodpecker – not to make a nest for itself, but to get at and eat the tit chicks which were inside. Most people are unaware that this species of woodpecker does not just eat wood-boring grubs, but in the nesting season can be a voracious predator on the chicks of other species. If you have a nest box in your garden and want to avoid it looking like the one pictured here, a metal plate round the entrance hole is the answer.
For me, one of the first signs of approaching Christmas is not the strains of festive songs in the shops or the arrival of cream eggs in the petrol stations, but the sound of the annual Borders Bird Report dropping through my letterbox. It duly arrived last week. It seems to get bigger and better every year and would make the perfect gift for the birder in your life. Simply send a cheque for £8.70, made payable to “SOC Borders Branch” to Malcolm Ross, Westfield Cottage, Smailholm, Kelso TD5 7PN, along with your name and address and that’s another present problem solved!