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
Waxwings and Redwings
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. For the past ten days, three redwings have made our holly tree their home.
It has been fascinating to watch their feeding behaviour. They sit deep in the tree in a dark corner, watching for danger or competitors or just simply preening and digesting their fruit salad! Just occasionally one will venture along a branch, choosing the area carefully before swallowing a few berries. Then it’s back into the safer haven deep in the tree.
Meanwhile over in Scarborough, a flock of Bohemian waxwings have been keeping Yorkshire Coast Nature photographer Steve Race and other birders very happy with their gregarious behaviour. Waxwing feeding style is so different from our secretive redwings.
A tasty berry bush is targeted, often an ornamental rowan. The waxwing flock feed together, strip the tree of its fruit as quickly as possible then move on.
A research study in Finland found waxwings removed the berries at the top of the trees first. Maybe this is their way of staying safe at the top before moving lower down in the tree.
Redwings and waxwings nest in the vast boreal forests of Scandinavia and Russia. Ringing recoveries suggest many of our redwings originate from the north-eastern Baltic countries. The majority of birds recovered in the UK have been found to be in their first year. Ringing studies on waxwings in the UK have indicated a variety of ages are represented in the flocks.
We are having a bumper winter for redwings in North and East Yorkshire. Look out for them almost anywhere there are winter berries, they seem to prefer native trees such as hawthorn and holly. They will also feed on invertebrates in the soil in the same way as many other thrushes.
There are far fewer waxwings in Yorkshire. Scarborough however, has had a great winter for these enigmatic birds. Look out for them in January as they move further inland having devoured every rowan berry on the seaside.
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