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
January: the start of a new year, an opportunity to escape the cold interior and hit the beach! You will be in good company as many animals take shelter on the coast in mid-winter. Temperatures are normally slightly milder as the influence of wind and salt reduces the severity of ice and snow.
On the coast, look-out for one of our most well-known wading birds, the redshank.
A medium sized wader with bright orange-red legs, a straight bill and soft brown plumage. They can be found around rock pools but they are equally at home on sandy beaches in places such as Robin Hood's Bay and nearby Boggle Hole.
Our wintering redshanks may originate from Scandinavia as many birds make the journey across the North Sea in winter to spend time on our beautiful coastline. Listen for their sharp alarm call. They have very keen eyesight and will probably see you first!
Two blobs of jelly, one red, and one brown, both with a line of electric blue at the base are spectacular beadlet anemones. Look out for them on the side of rocks in pools with their tentacles retracted when the tide is out. Despite their flower-like name they are predatory animals with 192 tentacles designed to trap passing prey.
On the shoreline there is a wonderful world of seaweeds to explore. From the large trailing wracks and kelp such as toothed wrack and sugar wrack to the tiny seaweeds such as Irish moss. A wealth of amazing diversity awaits the curious.
Sugar wrack can live for up to four years and forms sweet-tasting crystals when dry. Look out for the small cream dots of winkle egg studs on sugar wrack. Another strange weed to look for is thong weed which starts life as small button like plants before bursting into long strands up to a meter long.
A silvery sheen on seaweed can be sea mat, a bryozoan which can turn the weed almost completely grey. These bryozoa are also known as ‘moss animals’. Sea mat is a community of primitive animals which filter-feed. These amazing creatures can communicate with each other through chemical reactions.
Over 6,000 species of bryozoa have been recorded in the sea and in freshwater environments. Scientists have become increasingly interested in a chemical called bryostatin which has properties used in the fight against cancer.
The small seaweed Irish moss (carragheen) can be found in a variety of colours from reddish purple to green. It contains a chemical used as a thickener in the food industry, especially popular as a replacement for gelatine in vegan cookery, a folk remedy for coughs and colds and even as an aphrodisiac.
In the Caribbean, a saucy seaweed recipe involves mixing Irish moss with milk, rum and spices. There may be some truth in this tale as Irish Moss does contain manganese and vitamin E, both known to contribute to fertility and sex drive. Watch this space for Yorkshire Coast Nature tours to the Caribbean...!
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