One of the joys of Britain’s temperate location is the strongly marked seasonal nature of the wildlife we encounter. There are special sights and sounds to look forward to and enjoy in every month, as nature provides its own calendar to mark the passing weeks and climatic fluctuations of the year.
As we welcome each season there is the anticipation of familiar species returning, together with excitement at the possibility of a new observation to add to our wildlife notebooks. With winter almost upon us I’d like to suggest some nature highlights to seek out before the warmth of spring heralds the start of a fresh season.
Although we know the winter period as a time for coats, hats and scarves, the UK actually enjoys fairly mild winters in comparison with much of Europe. This is due mainly to the warming influence of the sea which surrounds our landmass, in particular a warm ocean current called the North Atlantic Drift which has its origins in the tropics. Our milder winters mean that millions of birds from northern Europe seek sanctuary here when their breeding grounds are clothed in thick snow and experiencing perishingly cold temperatures.
You can best witness evidence of this spectacular avian influx on moonlit nights, when redwings can be heard calling as they fly overhead. If you step outside your front door on these starry evenings short, high-pitched calls are the telltale signs that Europe’s smallest thrush species is on the move, guided by astronomical pointers. There are few more evocative wildlife sounds than the flight calls of a skein of wild geese, and every winter these loud vocalizations penetrate our house and send us scurrying outside to look for the V-shaped aerial formations of pinkfooted geese. These birds, most of which breed in Greenland and Iceland, are sometimes seen in flight over Yorkshire as they carry out midwinter movements within the UK, relocating from one feeding area to another. Their flocks are thought to be led by an older, more experienced individual.
There is also room for unexpected sightings over the winter, challenging the idea that nature sticks rigidly to a predetermined pattern of activity. Over the last few years I’ve seen several bats foraging during the day at a time of year when one might expect them to be tucked up in extended torpor inside their winter roosts. Equally surprising, have been the sightings of red campion and Herb-Robert in December, just two of the hardy plants recorded blooming in every month of the year.