Whilst it might require a little more planning and preparation to ensure that you can stay warm and make the most of the short daylight hours, in many ways, winter is one of the best times to observe our native wildlife – especially the ducks, swans and other water birds that make our wetlands so special at this time of year. Winter sees our highest numbers of birds present and the males, or drakes can be seen in their brightest plumage.
If visiting a wetland such as Attenborough Nature Reserve near Beeston or Skylarks Nature Reserve at Holme Pierrepont, look out for flocks of less common ducks such as goldeneye, goosander and pintail.
The first snowfall of winter, even a light dusting, can bring a whole new element to wildlife watching thanks to the opportunity to look out for the tracks of mammals such as fox, deer, otter and badger. Even after the snow has thawed, muddy tracks tend to be less obscured by vegetation in winter, meaning footprints can often be more clearly made out.
Once you’ve exhausted the opportunities presented by looking down at the ground, the cold winter months are a great time to look towards the tree tops as there will be many birds forming winter roosts. Large gatherings high in the trees provide distinct benefits for birds – most notably safety in numbers and additional, much needed, warmth. Birds to look out for include corvids such as rooks, crows and jackdaws. The sight and sound of a large corvid roost massing as occurs over the Delta woodland at Attenborough is a spectacle worth seeking out. Whilst very different to the dynamic and at times balletic displays put on by flocks of starlings before they descend into reedbeds, it is still a wonderful wildlife experience not to be missed. The best time to track down bird roosts is about an hour before sunset. Look out for small flocks of birds all heading in the same direction towards safe roost spots. Another great spot to head for is our Besthorpe Nature Reserve west of Newark, between the villages of Collingham and Besthorpe – where the island in the main lake – Mons Pool, is home to a sizable roost.
A winter treat you can often experience from the comfort of your garden or even from inside the house, is the sound of tawny owls communicating. They are at their noisiest in December so listen out for their familiar ‘twit twoo’ call. If you listen carefully you might be able to distinguish between the sharp ‘ke-wick’ call of the female and the more wavering ‘hoohoo’ of the male.
Written by Erin McDaid, Head of Communications and Marketing at Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust.
Further details about Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust’s nature reserves, events and campaigns, as well as information on a wide-range of native species can be found at nottinghamshirewildlife.org