A Red Squirrel (Image: Getty)
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Springwatch helped many of us get through the first lockdown.
So it was a joy to have Winterwatch on our screens, reminding us that even during these dark days we can still be inspired by the great outdoors.
Winterwatch presenter Chris Packham says: “People think winter’s a dead time, which is so wrong. All of our seasons are always setting up for the next one.
“They are always dynamic, so there’s always an enormous amount of things going on. You have the bite of the cold up your nose and beautiful clear skies – and it’s a great time to see wildlife. Now is the time to make that extra special effort.”
The naturalist adds: “We have vast numbers of birds that come to our shores.
Winterwatch presenter Chris Packham
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“I love going out on a winter’s night listening to… tawny owls – they’re such a powerful voice in the darkness.”
Use our grid to see how many animal and plant species you can spot, plus Chris shares his top tips on how you can give nature a helping hand.
* Winterwatch, weeknights, 8pm, BBC Two
Listen out, they’re really vocal at this time of year because they’ve started to argue about their territories.
Find them anywhere with large trees – any urban or suburban area – they’re widespread all over the UK. The only places you don’t find them are upland moors where there are no trees.
When it’s still and quiet, that call pierces through and it’s really strong.
Mistle Thrush on a tree stump
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GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER
Great spotted woodpeckers will visit peanut feeders during the winter. You may start to hear them drumming on trees, the thumping sound echoes out across the forest and is the start of the woodpeckers establishing breeding territories and trying to attract a mate.
During the winter, mistle thrushes exhibit an unusual behaviour; guarding berry bushes, including holly, yew and mistletoe. This tactic should hopefully insure they have a larder full of berries ready to eat all through the toughest winter months.
A Tawny Owl in woodland
Grey herons are one of our earliest nesting species and will lay their eggs in February. Their huge nests take a lot of time to build so now is your chance to spot them hunting for sticks in preparation.
Before dark, listen out at dusk for the robin. The reason robins are so vocal is that they keep their territories all year round. Lots of birds set up their territories in the breeding season and then after they all come together. But robins are different, they do keep it all year round.
Both males and females sing which is unusual in birds and they’re sexually identical so very difficult to tell apart.
In cities just as it’s getting to dusk, robins will sing and they stand out because nothing else is singing, which is quite striking.
A majestic grey heron flying
(Image: BATH CHRONICLE)
November – January is when they’re at their most vocal. Foxes live in social groups dominated by females, plus her sisters.
They hold ranges where that group of females is active and at this time of year the males will go roaming between the ranges looking for a mate.
The females are vocal as well as the males and it’s that time where they’re communicating with each other.
Great Spotted Woodpecker
January is a busy time for these much loved woodland mammals as this is when they will start to breed.
During this time they use up a lot of energy, so this is when their winter food stores really come into play.
In England, red squirrels only survive on the Isle of Wight and Brownsea Island, where there are no greys, on the Formby coast, and in the extensive pine forests of Northumberland and the Lake District.
A pine martin
During the winter pine martens do not hibernate and are active the entire way through. Their coat is a lot thicker and bushier the winter months and will appear slightly lighter in colour.
You’ll be very lucky to spot these though as they are mostly restricted to northern and central Scotland, and a few in northern England and Wales.
If we get the odd mild spell it’s not unusual for bats to come out and move from one hibernation roost or nest to another one.
It’s a perfectly natural thing for bats to come out and have a fly around.
Young bats are exploring the roost sites so they’ll follow the adults from one to the other.
A rare bat in the family Rhinolophidae
Look in your sheds and garages for hibernating butterflies, they’ll be hanging up from the roof. Tortoiseshell, peacock and comma are the ones you typically find. They look like little dead leaves lined up on the garage roof, don’t disturb them.
The small white flowers that will start to emerge throughout January to March. Despite the cold weather they are one of the first to bloom showing a sign that Spring is only around the corner.
(Image: Pam Hill)
In a bid to avoid predation on its seeds during the spring and summer, gorse flowers all year round, even in the depths of winter. Its flowers have a wonderful, distinctive, coconut scent.
JELLY EAR FUNGUS
Jelly ear fungus is common across the UK and grows on deadwood in damp, shady corners.
Distributed all over the UK, the first hazel flowers of the year typically appear in January, before the leaves. Look out for the yellow male catkins glowing in the low winter sunlight, and then get up close and search for the beautiful and tiny pink female flowers.
Gorse flowers in the snow as Spring
(Image: North Wales Live)
Hair ice is a rare phenomenon which requires very specific conditions to form, but is instantly recognisable when it does appear. It only materialises in association with a fungus called Exidiopsis effusa which grows on moist, rotting, deadwood, and on days when the weather is humid and the temperature dips just below 0 degrees Celsius.
HOW YOU CAN HELP – Chris says…
Now is a good time for investing in a bird feeder because the birds are hungrier and the days are shorter. You can get bird feeders that stick to windows and birds will learn to use them.
It’s about making sure the birds are safe and feel comfortable when they’re eating.
You’ll get birds like reed bunting on the garden feeder, bramblings are another winter visitor who come from Scandinavia, they hang out with chaffinches.
Blossom of a hazel covered with snow in winter
And watch out for things like cole tits and marsh tits, long tailed tits. Again, you’re far more likely to see those on the feeder in the winter time.
We also get some striking and unusual visitors at this time of year – waxwings.
They are a very beautiful bird and attract a lot of attention. They arrive in flocks every year and some years we get what is called an eruption where we’ll get loads everywhere.
You’ll often find them in supermarket car parks because many built in the 70s and 80s were planted with non-native berry producing bushes and that’s what they come to eat.
And let the garden grow wild. This is the time people will get in the garden to tidy up – don’t. Have a year off!
Be kind, give a little bit of your garden over to nature and see what turns up in the spring. Keep a log pile, make a pile of leaves and twigs but don’t burn it. Let the hedgehogs move in.