There is virtually no land work to be done at this time of year and the land is saturated anyway, so it is a good time to catch up on the many small jobs that tend to be forgotten when busy. Each day feeders for wild birds are filled/topped up with a mixture of bruised (crushed) barley, bruised wheat, cut maize, oilseed rapeseed, sunflower hearts, niger seed, suet pellets, and some mixed millets. These feeders are designed to allow smaller birds easy access but to deter the larger Corvids and Feral pigeons. From dawn until noon these feeders are very busy and Grey Partridges and Pheasants arrive to tidy the percentage that falls to the ground. There are also plastic barrel type feeders round the farm containing mainly wheat and cut maize for the large birds but these are only filled weekly. A mown grass track leading from the steading to a field has seed sprinkled on the ground daily for any other birds like Skylarks and Yellowhammers who do not like the clamour at the feeders. This is a mixture of clean seeds but also 'dressings' from the grain drier which consists of broken grains and weed seeds.
During the dark months of December and January, there is only so much machinery maintenance that can be done. Therefore it is a good time to prepare for spring and summer in other ways. There are dozens of nestboxes round the farm and they have a finite lifespan. Not only from weather damage but by modifications carried out by the tenants. Even though the timber is 12mm little birds like Blue Tits can enlarge the access holes considerably. About 15 were brought in and refurbished and re-treated with linseed oil. Another eight new small boxes were made with a circular access Hole about 3cm in diameter for Tits, Finches, Wagtails, Sparrows etc.These are fixed to trees and buildings using stainless steel screws. Galvanised (zinc coated) may seem like a sensible option but I have found this to be toxic to the trees.
Two new Barn Owl Boxes were made for installation in buildings. These are built on the basic design from the Barn Owl Trust but I use any thickness greater than 12mm exterior ply and to simplify cutting, make all sides 600mm as sheets are 1200mm x 2400mm. I have fitted hinged lids in the past, but sometimes there is no space to open it so a drop on lid secured by 'bungee' cord is now used. The interior is framed with 50 x 50mm treated timber and the whole thing is assembled using Stainless Steel 'Turbo Ultra' screws suplied by Screwfix. When building I always fit a small piece of timber inside the box to make possible camera installation easier later. The boxes are quite heavy when made from 20mm ply but I am fortunate to have a forklift with a 6.5m reach and an access platform which allows placing of the box up to 8.0m safe and easy.
There were several offcuts left after building so these were used to make a House Sparrow 'Street'. There are many House Sparrows nesting round the farm particularly in the old stone walls which have holes in them but as Sparrows are under threat elsewhere a few more nestboxes would do no harm. The basic shell was 20mm ply with 8mm partitions and roof. 32mm access holes were drilled in the front of each 'house'. The roof was made with a large overhang and is easily removeable for cleaning. Again it was liberally painted with linseed oil. Some crumbled bark was put in the bottom to make it slightly more inviting.
The owl box installed last year had been in use so I decided to fit a camera to see what was going on inside. I currently had a Cat5 copper network cable running to the shed for another camera, but as the run was 80m and through various other buildings, I did not wish to run another cable. I found an ethernet switch for POE which did not require mains power. I was dubious but it functions perfectly - currently running 3 POE cameras at 1080p and 960p resolution and 15 fps. The switch was fitted in an IP66 box as, although it is under cover, dampness aand condensaton can still be a problem. The POE seems adequate even when all three are powering their IR lighting. The nest box camera is a small Chinese POE IP camera with IR and a microphone. I was equally dubious at the quality as two were £52 and similar sold as 'ELP' or 'Golbong' in the UK are £80 each. However they were easy to setup and work very well and the IR is not too bright inside a nest box. Below are a couple of images inside and outside of the same nest box.