December this year has been unseasonably warm, although wet and at times exceptionally windy. Being only five miles from the sea we can always look forward to the gales that drive through the Channel.
Indeed the Met Office has declared December 2015 the warmest December on record, and the wettest since 1929. The mean temperature was 8C, double the long-term average, beating the previous record of 6.9C, set in 1934. There was a national average of 211mm of rain.
The strong El Nino weather phenomenon is believed to have driven tropical air up into the UK, causing the moisture and wind that formed one storm after the other.
The garden, and the birds, haven’t been quite sure what to make of the weather, in the mid teens most of the month, not dropping below 10C at night even until the very last night of the year when we had a slight frost.
Of interest in the garden this month has been a female Sparrowhawk lurking, looking for an unwary small bird as a catch. We have also seen Redwings, visitors from Scandinavia, taking the hawthorn berries from the hedging, sharing these with the blackbirds. Flocks of goldfinches have been regularly seen – and heard – passing through. And we have heard the Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming on the trees, and another echoing the sound – a sure sign that they think Spring has arrived. They are also regular visitors to the bird tables in the garden.
The other lovely thing this autumn has been the ‘Singing Hedge’ – we are surrounded and protected on three sides by thick and high hawthorn hedges, which not only act as a windbreak and create a micro-climate in the garden, and provide food in the form of berries and insects for the winter birds, but they are also used as a roost at night by sparrows. At dusk the hedge just ‘sings’ as the birds settle down for the night and presumably are chatting to each other. They are so well camouflaged that even in the winter when there are no leaves it is difficult to see them in the gathering darkness.
Another first for us this year has been the fact that we have had as many as six Little Egrets grazing in the field opposite every day, a sure sign that it is quite waterlogged and full of insects – the horses that normally graze the field have been moved, as a result of the wetness of the ground all round here after all the rain. On one occasion a crow chased a Little Egret into the oak tree in our garden – obviously a territorial thing.