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Snow buntingSnow bunting

Midwinter and the year's shortest day beckons, but the robins will still be singing and there's plenty of bird activity still. Wrap up warm and you'll still find lots going on or if you prefer a warmer option, we've bird watching facilities inside both our centres at Sutton Bank and Danby.

Our tip

Waxwings: These colourful invaders from Scandinavia may well arrive in large flocks – or ‘iruptions’ during the winter here on the hunt for ripe winter fruit. A beautiful peach and russet feathered bird, with a pronounced crest, black mask round its eye, it has yellow wing tips which are visible once you get the binoculars on them. Busy and flighty, they will be in a flock, gorging on berries like rosehips, rowan, holly and hawthorn. Head into Troutsdale for a chance to see them. With a curious ‘bubbling trill’ of a call you’re likely to hear them before you see them. 

Also look out for:

  • Bramblings, fieldfare, redwings and chaffinches which also make themselves at home in Troutsdale.
  • Snow buntings which will be overwintering on the North York Moors' coastline now, taking advantage of the good winter feeding grounds. Visit the Yorkshire coast and you may well see these birds making landfall as they fly in from over the North Sea. A busy flock of soft white snow buntings is a wonderful sight.
  • Birds of prey out hunting during the short daylight hours, including merlin, buzzards, peregrines, sparrowhawks, barn owls, short-eared owls. It's worth heading to Wykeham Forest Raptor Viewpoint again to see what's around. Tawny owls are still very vocal at dusk. Listen out for their haunting hoots to one another. They will be well camouflaged against the brown barks of trees, but now is a great opportunity to see one, when the trees are devoid of leaves.
  • Lapwings, mallard, teal, wigeon, tufted duck, coot, goldeneye, goosander and greylag geese at Scaling Dam.
  • Red foxes as fox vixens come into season in December and January, you may well hear haunting screams and barks in the night as the foxes make their intentions loud and clear. Look out for dog and vixen foxes together, running across the fields.

Walk of the month

Hutton le Hole is as pretty as a picture in the snow, but even without the white stuff, this is a charming walk on country lanes and moorland tracks, returning across the Spaunton escarpment for some lovely sweeping views. A cracker for a crisp day, with a country pub in both villages!

Yorkshire Coast Nature tips

This month Richard Baines from Yorkshire Coast Nature has a useful tip on what you can do in your garden to welcome wildlife.

Dozing in Briars or “Watch that Spade Dude!”  

Hedgehog Credit Richard Baines, Yorkshire Coast NatureNot so long ago I remember seeing a newly-built large house in a village going by the name of ‘The Briars’. The garden had no briars, no grass or anything green which could be mistaken for a garden. I remember thinking how sad that the occupants love the idea of the word but not the briars themselves. 

Of course, that was based on my idea of briars as a thorny thicket of vegetation. The rather cool Urban Dictionary website has ‘briar patch’ defined as “The place you secretly really want to be, even though the person sending you there thinks it's a punishment”. 

This leads on nicely from the old story about Br'er Rabbit's favourite patch for hiding in the famous Uncle Remus stories.  

Hiding in a wild and unkempt briar patch is a really good idea if your trying to escape the cold. Some of our most loved animals need a briar patch they can call home, find food and in winter doze undisturbed or go into full hibernation. Hedgehogs, Wood Mice, Robins, Song Thrushes, Wrens and Newts. 

Smooth newt Credit Richard Baines, Yorkshire Coast NatureWhen I was six years old, I found my first pet; a newt called you guessed it Newton! I can’t remember much about it just that I was so excited when I found it under a rock, I made a circle of stones, chose a name for it and watched in horror as it slowly tried to escape.  

Fast forward to November 2018 I’m in our new garden pondering how to create my very own briar patch. Out with the old in with the new, clearing away a few unwanted old flowers and moving rocks with care and putting them back just in case someone is living underneath. A movement caught my eye on a nearby flat stone. 

Wow it’s a newt and not any old newt but a beautiful male Smooth Newt just like my first pet! I was so relieved my spade hadn’t done any damage. I carefully lifted the stone and allowed it to crawl under the all new briar patch.  

Henry David Thoreau once wrote “In wildness is the preservation of the World”. Let’s bring that wildness into our gardens and create more briar patches! But we must be extra careful at this time of year, you never know who’s dozing in their thorny patch of paradise.