09 December 2015 by Phil Pickin
It’s often felt that winter is the least interesting time of year, especially when it comes to wildlife watching, and in some respects you would be correct. The natural world is, after all, waiting for the first signs of spring, for the daylight hours to lengthen and the temperature to increase just enough to make living that bit easier.
Having said that there are birds, animals and a few plants to see if you are out and about. With the occasional fall of snow, hard frost and even muddy conditions underfoot, you may also see evidence of rabbits, foxes and a wide range of birds from the tracks they leave behind. These are not always obvious, but if you take a little time to learn what to look for you will soon ‘get your eye in’.
Tracks and birdsong
It’s not just tracks to look for but birdsong to listen for. In cold clear conditions, their song seems to travel further and be that much clearer. This territory marking is great to hear when you are out in the countryside or just in your back garden. It’s not just birds that will be working to stake out a territory, so will frogs, who may well be returning to ponds. Despite their small size, they too can leave tracks in the mud that you can spot.
If you are close to a snow-covered area frequented by birds you will have plenty of tracks to see. The skill is being able to identify whose are whose, and for that you need a decent book. If the birds are flocking to an area to feed, there is a chance you will spot the footprints of a fox that will be stalking and making plans for his next meal. In this type of situation, you are not just seeing signs of certain animals but you are reading a story.
Depending on your location, you might be lucky enough to see mountain hares or stoats, both of which change their coats in the winter to blend in with the expected snow. This makes them all the more difficult to see, but if you spot the tracks you could be lucky enough to see them on hillsides, mountains and moors.
Despite hibernating at this time of year, badgers will wander down well-trodden tracks to find food on warmer days. With short legs and thick coats, the tracks left by badgers are easy to spot even if the animals themselves are harder to see. More common and easier to spot will be grey squirrels, feeding whenever they get a chance, and if you are lucky, even the occasional red.
It’s not just tracks and distant calls you should be aware of, there are a few plants, fungi and even frosted cobwebs to see at this time of year. All evidence that life does go on in the natural world despite the temperature and the time of year. Thankfully, spring is on its way as the cycle continues.
Photo credits © Phil Pickin
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