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Old 23-12-09, 03:30 PM
Neil Rigby's Avatar
Join Date: Feb 2009
Location: Kent, South East England
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Post Wildlife to enjoy in winter

Just because the days are short and cold doesn't mean winter isn't a great time to get outdoors and enjoy wildlife. Here's some ideas from us and if you've got any please do add them below.

Frosty winter days and early dusks make January a great time to see some of our larger mammals and impressive flocking birds.

Foxes: foraging in the open around dusk and dawn in towns and cities.

Brown hares: starting their mating rituals between now and April with unreceptive females boxing off the amorous advances of males.

Flocks of birds: Starlings roost in reedbeds, on bridges and in buildings; lapwings and golden plovers flocking on farmland.

Winter reigns but the first hopeful signs of spring begin to show in the plant world.

Early flowers: snowdrops poke their way through lifeless woodland floors the country over, yellow coltsfoot flowers appearing on disturbed ground before their leaves.

Herons: sticking their neck out for bizarre and wonderful courtship displays on huge stick nests in woodlands.

Rooks: Form large, raucous tree-top colonies for early breeding.

Take a walk in the woods:
Winter is one of the best times to go walking in the wood. Without leaves on the trees you are more likely to spot all sorts of wild creatures.

Mistle thrushes defending holly berries, saving them for later in the winter. Look out for the holly bush that is still red in January.

Squirrels: the mating season begins in winter for our squirrels so keep an eye out for them chasing each other through the high branches.

Buzzards: in December, this now very widespread large bird of prey spends most of its time on the ground in fields at this time of the year 'hunting' for earthworms. Earthworms form the biggest part of a buzzard's diet during the winter months, surprising for such a big bird of prey.

Crossbills: In January/February they can be seen breeding in the snow. Young birds will be being fed in the February frosts and snow from the New forest in the south to the Caledonian forests of the north. In very cold weather crossbills will come to gardens in search of water. On their diet of pine cone seeds they get very thirsty.

Stay local in your park or garden:
With it being so cold outside, sometimes it's much more comfortable to watch wildlife from the kitchen window.

Woodpigeons: love them or hate them, huge numbers of woodpigeons will be on the move within December. Individual flocks can number in the tens of thousands. The movement is generally from the north to the south-west and is most obvious on clear cold days with light winds. We aren't really sure where these birds come from or where they are going to but it would seem likely that they are moving from northern Europe and are making their way to France and possibly southern Europe. When this migration is underway it is a very impressive sight and one that a lot of people overlook.

Blackcaps: their migration has some surprise stories to tell. Bblackcaps from Germany are already eating fat-balls in people's gardens - especially in the warmer west

Garden birds: In January, birds will begin moving into gardens as nature's larder begins to run out. Finches from Northern Europe, brambling, chaffinch, siskin will join the local blue and great tits at the feeders. The winter thrushes, redwing and fieldfare, can also come in search of ornamental shrubs that still hold berries, and windfall apples. (Read about Martin Hughes Games' love affair with feeding his garden birds.)

Wren by Barry Hunter

Wrens: roosting in nest boxes. Other birds also do this.

Switch on nest cams to watch roosting blue and great tits. There might be some surprises... small mammals and overwintering butterflies!

Take a trip to the coast:
There are plenty of winter coastal spectacles to be seen, and rockpooling in winter can be just as fun as in summer.

East coast: flocks of snow buntings can be seen on the east coast, particularly in Norfolk, throughout the winter. This is when these beautiful birds, when a flock takes to the air the white patches on the wings really do give the impression of a snow blizzard, are most accessible. During the summer months they will be back on the high mountain tops of northern Europe.

West coast: during the mid-winter ravens will begin to think about breeding and begin their dramatic and breathtaking display, throwing themselves around the sky, barrel-rolling and constantly uttering a deep croaking 'cronk'.

South coast: at the northern edge of their breeding range, Dartford warblers can be at their easiest to see during the winter months as they actively search for the invertebrate food that will see them through this tough time, often partaking in a bout of singing, probably to loosely maintain a winter territory and hold an area with a good food supply.

North coast: during the winter our northern shores hold huge numbers of sea duck. Thousands of eider, long-tailed duck, common and velvet scoters are joined by smaller numbers of goldeneye and red-breasted mergansers and form huge rafts on the water that provide a real birdwatching spectacle.

Visit a nature reserve:
Winter can be one of the best times to visit a nature reserve, for example it's a great time to see huge flocks of migrating geese and wildfowl, and a starling's display is not to be missed. Visit BBC Breathing Places to find one near you.

More from BBC Autumnwatch...
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