January may mean frosty winter days, early dusks, and bare trees and hedges, but that also means it's easier to see flocks of birds and other wildlife.
Hone your detective skills and make the most of any snow with a spot of animal tracking, looking for signs of hungry mammals and birds.
Mice, voles, rabbits, brown hares, red fox, squirrels and otters will all be out looking for food.
Badger prints are similar to dogs, with the same rear pad and toe pads, although they have five instead of four.
Badgers also have longer claws than dogs that will leave a noticeable imprint.
Crossbills have a head start and will already be looking to breed because their food of choice – conifer seeds – is ripe and available throughout winter. As its name suggests, the upper and lower parts of its bill are crossed over (though you'll only see this through binoculars or at close range). The adult male is reddish in the upperparts and under parts. The female is greenish-grey, lightly streaked. Flocks can be seen feeding in pine forests like Boltby, Cropton and Dalby.
Also look out for:
- Redshanks on the shoreline as Icelandic birds join with British feeding flocks. Look for them wading on the shore, with their long orange/black beaks and bright orange/red legs.
- Winter aconites start to open early in January. These cheering yellow blooms, part of the buttercup family, can carpet a woodland floor. They may look delicate but they're pretty tough, frost-tolerant and readily survive fresh snow cover unharmed.
- Lichens as their mosaic patterns are really visible now on old stone walls, marker stones, and tree branches. There are more than 2,000 different varieties growing in Britain, and the cleaner the air, the more you'll find. They stand out really well on days when it’s rained. With so many stone walls across the North York Moors, you'll find them all over the place while East Moor Banks and Pretty Wood, both on the Castle Howard estate, and Yearsley Woods are good places in the Howardian Hills.
Walk of the month
Yorkshire Coast Nature tips
Happy new year to everyone! For wildlife enthusiasts January can be full of promise as many people get out and explore the wilder areas of Yorkshire. But what might we be missing closer to home? In this month’s blog I will be looking at two birds and one species of fungi which could be lurking right under your nose, as well as starting a new feature highlighting up-to-the-minute news about unusual wildlife to look out for.
Most people are very familiar with one of our most common birds, the woodpigeon. But not so many of us may recognise the stock dove, a smaller pigeon-like visitor to the bird table or trees near our home. These birds are definitely under appreciated. Don’t be fooled by their resemblance to woodpigeon when you first spot them. They are smaller, daintier, far less confident and definitely more attractive to my eyes!
Stock doves are resident, with us all year round and are sedentary (non-migratory) but in a similar way as many other birds they may make short movements in winter to search for food.
The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) in their amazing book ‘The Bird Migration Atlas’ document the average movement of British stock doves as only 6km from their nesting site. In contrast to our birds, stock doves in the north and east of Europe are highly migratory, wintering in Spain and other southern European countries.
At this time of year, stock doves can turn up in and around your garden. Look out for their slimmer shape, distinctive fluorescent green neck colouring and in flight the black bars on their wings. They need a hole to nest but don’t always need an old tree. I remember finding a nest in the boulder clay cliffs of Flamborough where a pair was using a rabbit burrow. Maybe they were taking lessons from the nearby puffins!
Another bird which may make a make a visit to your garden this winter is the blackcap. A similar size to a robin, they are one of only a small number of western European warblers which have taken on the challenge of wintering here. The rest opt for the winter warmth of Southern Europe or Africa.
To attract blackcaps to your bird table try hanging out rotting apples.
The origin of these wintering birds is fascinating. The BTO have documented a pattern of blackcaps arriving from the near continent in autumn and even mid-winter.
Approximately 35% of blackcaps ringed in Belgium during autumn prior to 1981 were recovered north of their breeding areas. So, if you see a blackcap in your garden this winter it could be from Belgium or Germany!
The weather outside my window today is perfect for a fungi foray, wet, mild and misty! One of the more spectacular and easy to identify species is the birch polypore. Look out for them on their host tree, the common birch or silver birch growing anywhere there is a plentiful supply of dead wood. Its other common name, birch bracket is a good way of remembering its distinctive shape.
When small and fresh they are pale in colour becoming progressively brown and greyer with age as they grow larger. They are not poisonous and in fact have been used in medicine for thousands of years.
A 5,300-year-old mummy found in the Italian Alps was found to have birch polypore tied to two strips of hide. The infection found in his body was linked to the probable use of the polypore he was carrying as an antiseptic.
Rare and scarce wildlife to look out for
As I write this on 2 January, there are up to seven hawfinch at Thornton le Dale in the trees above Dog Kennel Lane. These birds have been here a while and they are normally rare in the North York Moors National Park so this is a good chance to see the largest finch in Europe! Or you may be as lucky as local artist Jonathan Pomroy and find one on your garden bird table!
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