December began with confirmation from the Met Office that autumn 2021 had been exceptionally mild, dry and gloomy for our part of Wales, (the third warmest on record) although December began with the first a day of constant blustery rain, and the briefest glimpse of sunshine. There followed a few typically moody sunrises.
Periods of rain and brief sunny spells, with much more windy conditions than for most of the autumn, then became the norm.
There was still only one snowdrop cultivar with flowers above ground in early December, no Cyclamen coum blooms unfurled, and residual leaves left on hazels, Zelkova, and even the odd Acer, as well as our ever reliable un-named golden leaved Spirea, nearly always the last deciduous plant in the garden to show autumnal leaf colour change, in its fairly sheltered location. All of this in spite of the pasting from storm Arwen at the end of October.
Work continued with hedge laying in the upper meadow, in advance of a second named storm, Barra, which hit on December 7th.
Many of our local cycling trips into the surrounding forests were curtailed by multiple fallen conifers, the worst such damage we have seen locally in our time here.
As the month progressed, there was rain on most days and almost no sunshine until 17th, when at last we were forecast to see the sun again. Although we experienced a few more pink grey dawns.
Snowdrop emergence continued to lag the pattern of recent years, but a brief glimpse of sunshine on another mild day, saw a few bees taking the chance to stretch their wings.
There were a couple of wonderful days around the 19th, with glorious sunrises, and nearly sunshine all day after hard frosts. It even coincided with the full moon, around dusk.
At last a few more snowdrops emerged, Daphne buds began to colour, and a chance sighting of a woodcock, Scolopax rusticola, flying South at dawn above the yard, followed by another chance sighting of one flying the opposite direction at dusk, got me wondering just where they might be flying to.
I waited in the yard the following dusk for 45 minutes in freezing, total cloud cover gloomy conditions with an Easterly wind, hoping to film one, and eventually gave up, since it was getting so dark that the light wasn’t registering on the camera viewfinder, and my shutter finger was going numb from the cold. I retreated indoors, and popped out of the back door straight away for a pee, only to be rewarded by seeing one flash past the Amelanchiers on the rear bank. Drat! But maybe this was a regular flight path for this bird?
Thus encouraged, and the following evening being clear, and with a now more accurate time to aim for (4.30 to 4.45 pm), I positioned myself further North, in a position able to scan a fair bit of the upper hay meadow, and standing dressed in black, close to a sleeper straining post, hoping to work out, should I see one, which direction the bird was heading to. I figured over a few days, I might be able to work out exactly which field it was using as a nocturnal feeding ground.
Imagine my amazement, as the light ebbed away, and final pre-settling birdsong from night time roosts quietened, I caught the distinctive black fast moving silhouette moving left to right, and apparently settling midway up the field. And then from behind, another, and then another. After I’d spotted and attempted to film a few of these, I lowered the tripod, only to have another one fly in/past. This happened twice. So in the end, I must have seen about 7 or 8, and even managed to get short lips of about 5. What a thrill! This really tests the limits of my modest camera, and my reaction times, but to get a few short video clips was really exciting and will spur me on to try and improve on these, given suitable weather over the next few months.
There was also an amazing brief burst of honeybee activity from a couple of the hives on a sunny, still, but not particularly warm morning, on December 19th.
Christmas Day boxing day and the rest of the month and year were seen out with wet windy and mild weather, rounding off what is becoming a typically gloomy, damp and generally mild winter month, in these changing times.
The lichens have certainly had a good year, and it was wonderful to see and hear the mistle thrush back in action, atop the larch, and serenading across the landscape at dusk on Boxing Day.
December 2021 ended up being the gloomiest ever recorded across the UK according to the Met Office, though I have to record that here, our PV record for December 2015 was significantly worse, at just 22 KWH. But these are really low levels of light, as the annual inverter reading reflects, compared with the brighter months of the year.
The monthly rainfall of 219 mm was also way down on the horrendous figure of 534 mm from December 2015 (a monthly record here since I began to note such things). However it still brought the annual total up to 2003.5 mm, not that much below 2015’s total of 2105.8mm, so increasingly often, our annual rainfall seems to broach the 2 metre level. And at this level of rainfall, the effects on the garden and fields are the same – saturation. The other striking feature is how patchy the rainfall distribution has been this year, as the monthly total series illustrates:
218.8, 334, 198.05, 19.2, 291.5, 33.1, 77.6, 110, 143.8, 288.7, 69.75, 219.
The last day of the year also set a new temperature record for New Year’s Eve, for the UK of 16.8 degrees C for Bala in North Wales, as grey, moist air was blown up from the Azores. How will 2022 turn out?