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
Amazing migrations - the Redwing
In January 2020, I wrote a blog about Redwings, I started with:
“There is something really magical about finding a beautiful songbird eating the berries in your holly tree knowing this bird has recently flown over a thousand miles to visit your garden”. I roughly estimated the distance between the Scandinavian forests and York. However, I was underestimating the distance these birds can travel!
A year later, I have learnt through the powers of social media of a Redwing which flew far more than 1,000 miles. It was ringed by the West Midlands Ringing Group on 20 October 2016 at Cannock Chase. The third week of October is a great time for seeing Redwings arriving on the east coast of England. We see many thousands in Yorkshire and they can be seen in huge flocks in the North York Moors National Park at this time.
This bird must have quickly moved inland, then took a break in Staffordshire where it flew into a bird ringer's net.
Fast forward to 15 July 2019 when the same bird was found dead in a town called Asha in Chelyabinsk, Russia. The region became famous for the large meteorite which fell in the same area in 2013. The finder must have noticed the ring and maybe reported the ring number to Euring, the European web site for birding ringing co-ordination.
The distance between Cannock Chase and Asha is 3,896 km! It’s highly likely this Redwing had been born in the forests of the Asha area and may have been migrating back and forth to the UK since the first autumn after its birth.
Many birds even small songbirds have amazing site fidelity and use the same traditional areas each year in summer and winter. If we take this theory as correct this amazing bird flew six journeys back and forth from Russia to the UK, a total of 23,376 km in its lifetime.
The journeys these birds travel takes them across many dangerous landscapes. On these journeys their sole aim is to survive, they have no concern with borders or human politics.
The next time I see a Redwing in our garden I will think about its home in central Russia and how closely connected to the natural world our countries are.
The hard work of volunteer bird ringers all over the world opens our eyes to these amazing stories of migration. In the UK, bird ringers are licensed by the British Trust for Ornithology after several years of training to ensure no harm is done to the birds. Find out more about the work of the West Midlands Ringing Group.
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