A wintery walk on the wild side

Hedgerows laden with berries are a draw for robins, thrushes, redwings and fieldfares at this time of year - and watch out for animal tracks in the landscape while out walking. By Tom Hibbert, The Wildlife Trusts.

A robin on a branch with snow and berries

Photo by: Mark Hamblin

Winter is a wonderful time for a wildlife walk. From the outset it feels like an adventure; the invigorating icy air, the crunch of frost beneath your boots as you cross a sea of glittering grass. Setting out into this Arctic arena, you could be forgiven for thinking there’s no wildlife around, that surely all sensible creatures are curled up in some warm and cosy hideaway. But before long, the wild world will reveal itself.

The first sign of life is often a musical one, as the softly flowing symphony of a robin’s song breaks the silence of the wintery morning. One of the few birds to sing throughout winter, the melancholic beauty of the robin’s voice hides an aggressive undertone. This is a declaration of dominance, staking claim to a territory that can sometimes be defended to the death. Look around and you might spot the bright red breast of this most festive of our feathered friends, adding a splash of colour to the winter landscape.

A feast of fruit

Hike along a hedgerow and you’ll notice that some branches still host a buffet of berries. There are the bright red hips of dog rose, the bruise-dark sloes of blackthorn and the gleaming scarlet clusters of rowan berries. This free feast of fruit is irresistible to roving flocks of thrushes, which migrate to the UK each autumn to escape the colder winters of Scandinavia, Iceland and Eastern Europe.

As well as the familiar blackbirds, song thrushes and mistle thrushes, there are two more colourful visitors to spot. Look out for redwings, their humble hues of brown and cream offset by a blazing rust-red patch on each flank, and the larger fieldfares, resplendent in a blue-grey hood, chestnut cloak and ochre bib above the snow-white feathers of their belly. As winter progresses, they often venture into increasingly urban surroundings in their search for sustenance.

A small bird on a branch with red berries around

Photo by: Richard Steele

Finding footprints

But not all winter wildlife is as easy to see. Just as waymarked trails lead us through the wilderness, animals walk paths of their own, and this is rarely more evident than in winter. A fresh blanket of snow is the best canvas, but a rain-soaked patch of mud can still reveal the secret ways of our nocturnal wanderers. The broad, five-toed pads of a badger or the doglike prints of a fox betray the presence of these mysterious mammals. Neither species sleeps away the coldest season like some of their smaller cousins, but badgers do spend more time below ground as females prepare for a winter birth.

A small footprint in the snow

Photo by: Amy Lewis

As with any season, the more time you spend outside, the more wildlife you’re likely to see. So wrap up warm, grab your waterproofs and embark on your next winter adventure! 

For more inspiration, check out The Wildlife Trusts’ guide to seeing winter wildlife.

The Wildlife Trusts is a grassroots movement of people from a wide range of backgrounds and all walks of life who share a common set of beliefs and want to achieve a world where people are close to nature, and land and seas rich in wildlife.

Magazine of the Ramblers