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December

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 recounts an unexpected encounter with a butterfly last month.

Sleeping Beauties

Small tortoiseshell copyright Richard Baines, Yorkshire Coast NatureA dark evening during November in Scarborough Cricket Club’s function room was the last place I expected to see a butterfly! As I set up my projector to deliver a talk on the Wildlife of the North York Moors National Park, a small tortoiseshell flew around my head. Wow that’s a good sign, have you got any other party tricks? said one of the audience members. 

The small tortoiseshell had been disturbed in some way from its resting place and awakened from what I thought was hibernation...

This got me thinking how little I know about how butterflies hibernate. 

The first thing I learnt was that insects do not strictly hibernate in the same way mammals do. Okay, now I need to change my terminology! Butterflies and many other insects, cued by environmental stimuli such as daylight length or temperature enter either a quiescence and/or a full-on diapause.

Peacock copyright Dan LombardA quiescence is the temporary slowing down of metabolism whereas diapause is an actual delay in an individual’s biological development. During the winter this could be a delay in the biological and chemical processes which would eventually lead to reproductive development. In many species these two functions follow each other. A diapause is followed by a period of quiescence as development starts but dormancy continues as the butterfly slowly becomes active again.

And whilst we are firmly in geek land maybe we need to answer the inevitable question; why don’t butterflies freeze during diapause? Their bodies remain just above freezing thanks to a fantastic ability to create a chemical ‘anti-freeze’ in their blood; glycerol. It also helps if you choose the warm function room at Scarborough Cricket Club!

If you find a butterfly in your house and need to move it, Butterfly Conservation give the following advice:

“The best solution is to rehouse the butterfly into a suitable location. Catch the butterfly carefully and place it into a cardboard box or similar in a cool place for half an hour or so to see if it will calm down. Once calmed down you might be able to gently encourage the sleepy butterfly out onto the wall or ceiling of an unheated room or building such as a shed, porch, garage or outhouse. Just remember that the butterfly will need to be able to escape when it awakens in early spring.”