In common with the rest of the country, the start of 2010 saw the heaviest snow fall to hit west Cornwall for nearly 25 years with overnight temperatures dipping below -7C.
For the human population, easily led by the media hype, coupled with the modern climate of risk aversion this meant that all the local schools were closed, roads were labeled as impassable and vast numbers of people settled down to an extended Christmas holiday.
For the animal world opting out was not an option, and although the conditions brought extreme hardship, it was business as usual in the harsh daily battle to find enough food to survive. No television or radio to panic them about how lethal the conditions were, just their instinct & senses of the true conditions around them.
One of the most obvious signs of the struggle to survive in the natural world is the huge increase in the number of birds visiting our garden at Godolphin Cross, many overcoming their traditional shyness in the search for food.
Over a dozen Redwings – Turdus iliacus seemed to be camped in our garden for over a week, flicking over the leaves & plant debris at the bottom of the garden in search of invertebrates, lunging forward head first & recoiling with their prey speared. Redwings are the smallest of the thrushes that visit us in the autumn & winter, pushing south from the Scandinavian countries where they spend their summers.
The apple segments that we liberally spread across the snow covered lawn seemed to be very popular with the Blackbirds – Turdus merula and a lone Fieldfare – Turdus pilaris, a first for our garden, who aggressively saw off any other birds that got remotely close to his piece of fruit, fanning out his black tail feathers
It was interesting to see how each bird fed on the white flesh of the apple until only the crescent moon like skin remained. Even a lone male Blackcap - Sylvia atricapilla staked a claim to a segment though he stood little chance of repelling the Fieldfare, Blackbirds & Redwings.
A mixed group of twenty or so Rooks & Jackdaws caused a bit of a ruckus when they joined the garden party, scattering the smaller birds for a little while. It is sad to reflect that amongst the 14 or so species present there were no Starlings and just two House Sparrows, a stark contrast to a few decades ago when the majority of the birds present would have been one of those two urban characters.
One of our most bizarre sightings in the garden during this cold snap was a ‘looper’ caterpillar of the
Light Emerald Moth - Campaea margaritata that chose to settle just outside our back door on a bare expanse of masonry with no shelter whatsoever. The larva in this shot measured around 25mm in length and would perhaps ultimately be 39mm long, probably feeding on the Silver Birch that grow in our garden. Apparently they survive the winter by nibbling the bark of the younger twigs and eat the buds with the larval stage coming to an end in May or June. This twig like caterpillar has a distinctive fringe of hair like structures running along the underside of its body.
The very pale emerald green coloured adult moth (shown below) has tiny orange marks at the apex of the forewings and flies from late May until early August.
Having survived early morning temperatures of -2C at 7.00am, (with the overnight temperatures surely a lot less) it appears that this somewhat visible resting place brought him to the unwelcome attention of a hungry bird.
Thanks to Phil Boggis & JohnGregory for confirming the identification of the Light Emerald Moth caterpillar.