This morning, winter made sure I knew it was there. A heavy frost had coated everything in crystals. It wasn't long after dawn and already, fluffy, hungry-looking birds were lurking in the bushes. The bird feeders were nearly empty! Under normal circumstances, you could perhaps accuse me of being a little disorganised, but this morning I became a hyper-efficient bird-feeding machine. In no time I'd found porridge oats (central heating for birds, too), some bashed-up apples, a bag of cheap currants for thrushes and sunflower hearts to replenish the feeder. It was time to brave the cold.Crunching over the grass, I made my way down the garden to the bird feeders. I got halfway there before a great spotted woodpecker burst from its position on the peanut feeder.
'Sorry, woodpecker,' I thought (I'm not yet at the stage where I'm talking directly to the birds), 'you can come back in a couple of minutes'. It was so quiet and still outside that I heard the whirr of its wings as it went to hide in the ash tree.I also heard fieldfares 'chacking' overhead as they searched for unfrozen fields, a wren singing from down the hedgerow and saw a flock of lapwings flopping their way across the sky, also on the hunt for a nice field full of worms. I might not have noticed any of those things if I'd stayed indoors.There was a slight hitch when I found the lid of the bird feeder was iced firmly shut, but a jug of warm water soon fixed that and sorted the frozen bird bath, too. With the feeders full, fruit scattered on the ground and oats sprinkled around, my job was done.By the time I was back inside and peering out of the kitchen window, birds were already back on the feeders. They got their breakfast; I got a feeling of satisfaction. It was a good start to the day.
I could probably count the number of times I see a jay in summer on two hands, but for the last few weeks it has been difficult to travel anywhere without encountering one of these colourful crows.
With their brilliant colours temporarily concealed by the abundant lush green foliage of high summer and a natural tendency for shyness, you could be forgiven for thinking that jays leave us at this season. They are still here of course, but raucous calls coming from deep within the treetops may be the only clue to their presence.
It is a different story now though. The autumn leaf drop means there is no place now for these woodland residents to hide and jays are much more obvious through their transformation into 'hoarders' and 'stashers' of the treasures of the woodland floor.
Daily plundering sorties see every jay meticulously scouring the ground beneath our magnificent oaks for glistening acorns nestled in the golden-glowing leaf litter. The wettest summer on record has produced an acorn bonanza in our woodlands and jays have been quick to take advantage.
In spite of the abundant food on offer, jays don't spend the diminishing daylight hours scoffing their bounty and fattening up in preparation for winter. Jays, like most crows, are very intelligent and play the long game by burying their treasure in a variety of well-spaced underground stashes, providing a source of food on which they can depend when food becomes harder to find in the depths of winter.
Regular flights between foraging grounds and their stores in various woods is what makes jays so much more visible now. Of course, even the cleverest of birds, can't be expected to remember where it has buried all of its acorns and it is these forgotten seeds that give rise to the next generation of oaks.