While we humans are snuggled inside with mulled wine and glittery episodes of Strictly on the telly, UK wildlife is still making its home out in the wild.
In the bleak midwinter
Many mammals have headed into hibernation, migrating birds departed and amphibians buried themselves safely away from winter freezes. Even insects and butterflies may have paused their development, at the larval or caterpillar stage, until the weather warms up. So, is there anything out there?
Watch for the Winter Moth, happily flying throughout winter this hardy moth is pale brown with darker bands across it. By mating in winter, you might think the young caterpillars would escape being eaten but blue tits actually time their breeding to coincide with their appearance! A clutch of baby blue tits can munch their way through 10,000 caterpillars…
Check your garden pond as the British common frog may still be swimming about. Though they slow their metabolism and lurk in the pond bottom they can emerge for an oxygen top-up. Keep the surface of your pond from freezing over completely with a floating object.
Nature’s winter show-offs
As New Year approaches the shortest day has passed and you can soon hope to find snowdrops peeking through. You may not expect a riot of colour in mid-winter but for some wild plants it’s their time to show off. Mistletoe, our festive favourite with its shiny white berries, can be spotted in clumps in trees such as hawthorn, apple and poplar. Ivy berries also appear in winter and their high fat content make them popular for birds like thrushes, wood pigeons and blackbirds, when other food is scarce. By January the bright lesser celandine may make an appearance, bringing flecks of gold to woodland floors with its starry flowers.
Don’t forget your feathered friends
Garden birds will especially welcome food you put out at this time of year and fresh water is important during frosty times. Why not try making your own fat balls? It’s a quick, fun and a little messy! Soften some lard then stir in extras like sultanas, breadcrumbs or bird seed. Shape the mixture into balls and wrap around a length of knotted string. Leave to set in the fridge before hanging up in trees or from a bird table. You could also coat fir cones in the mixture or fill old yoghurt pots with it. Birds love them!
Little signs to look for
Challenge yourself to identify a deciduous tree from just a bare winter twig! On Ash there are obvious pairs of black buds on the grey stems, and Beech has sharp, long, pointy buds. On Sycamore the rounder, green buds will be lined up in pairs opposite each other. Horse Chestnut twigs have large, brown, sticky buds and look for the almost heart-shaped scars where the large leaves fell off. Impress your family and friends with your new skill!
#staywild #strictly #birds #makeyourown
Louise Barrack, Communications Officer