PHIL CALVERT: Spare a thought for the birds this winter

STILL no change in the weather. Tens of thousands of travellers are camped out in airports. Eurostar has had queues of people desperate to leave the country, half a mile long stretched outside St Pancras station. Side roads in particular remain sheathed in ice and frozen snow.

Wednesday, 29th December 2010, 1:38 pm

I was quite worried about my two girls travelling down to stop over with friends in Derbyshire, where the various Pennine passes have more often than not been closed. As they loaded their bags with bling, lippy and heels, like a mother hen I fussed about making sure they had cans of de-icer, warm hats, gloves and coats and boots. Grudgingly they complied.

It was with some trepidation I waited to hear of their safe arrival. It was with some relief we got the call, rather sooner than I expected to say they had had a safe journey. Indeed the journey was incident free apart from the usual bickering.

Similarly, our neighbours, in their 70s, grimly travelled through freezing fog to visit family in Northampton, returning two days later, once more without incident. But their stories were not always typical with Scotland in particular bearing the brunt industry, of weather extremes.

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More locally, snow has been more patchy. Over near Southport, in an area more typical for moderate winter weather, and indeed the home of the local horticultural industry, they have had 10in. of snow. Meanwhile, last Monday night, just down the road from Southport at Crosby, they recorded the lowest overnight temperature in Britain at minus 17.6 degrees celsius.

Over at Blacko, several inches of snow still cover the ground but on lower ground, near say Simonstone, perhaps two inches of snow is more typical. Indeed, I feel it is the low temperatures that are more of an issue than lying snow, with the car’s thermometer showing minus 13 degrees celsius. What a relief low temperatures have not combined with high winds.

I’m thankful the log store and coal bunker are well stocked, even if I do have to use a hammer to break lumps off for the coal scuttle.

Taking Monty for a walk I donned four fleeces to stay comfortable as he ran around at 90 miles an hour having a great time.

But for wildlife, and most visibly, our garden birds, this really is a tough time. With no access to sources of heat and without the option of wearing more clothing they have just one option. Keep eating.

The combination of snow and ice make foraging for food very difficult and I always like to do my bit by keeping the bird feeders topped up with fresh food. Peanuts, sunflower seeds, thistle seed and anything containing fats can make the difference between life and death for many of our garden birds.

I also like to keep an area snow-free so I can put food out on the ground.

Odd lumps of pastry, raisins, stale bread, bacon fat trimmings, even cheese are all devoured by the hungry birds at this time of year. Got some corn flakes that have gone soft because “someone” has left the packet open Don’t throw them away; give them to the birds. Waste nothing. Those flakes won’t be around for long.

Not only that, try to regularly leave out a saucer of warm water. Natural supplies have long since frozen up and with dry foods to eat, a drop of water eases the digestive process. It certainly works for me. A Benny & hot certainly helps mince pies on their way to oblivion.