Wildlife treats for those who want to seek them out
WHEN the days get shorter and darkness and cold linger long past their welcome, it's easy to think that the whole world of wildlife has shut down too. Thankfully, there are many seasonal wildlife treats for those who want to seek them out.
Most of our native mammals are nocturnal creatures and, like humans, prefer to stay tucked up warm in winter. Dormice and hedgehogs, of course, spend winter in deep hibernation.
Most mammals, though, need to find food even during the coldest and wettest spells and this provides us with fantastic opportunities to take a glimpse into their secret lives.
After heavy rain when tracks are muddy or after snow, get out early and look for mammal tracks. Foxes, rabbits and badger tracks should be easy to find if you know they are in your area, but it's even more exciting to discover that stoats or weasels are living nearby. If you're really lucky you might even find otter tracks down by the river.
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Birds are fairly active during winter too. The pressures of rearing broods of eager young are a distant memory and flocks of birds can forage in gregarious groups through our gardens and hedgerows making the most of the short days to sustain their energy to see the night out.
The absence of leaves on many of our trees makes it easier to see and hear the many visitors to our gardens. And species such as nuthatch, great spotted woodpeckers, siskins and bramblings may venture into gardens at this time of year and visit bird tables - an extra special treat and you don't have to venture further than the kitchen window.
If the weather turns really cold look out for flocks of Redwings and Fieldfares escaping the Scandinavian winter in our relatively warmer climes. The cold still air of winter lets sound travel more crisply to our ears and winter dusks and dawns can be the best time of year to hear the 'twit-twoo' of tawny owls.
Winter walks are also a great time to enjoy some of our less celebrated wild things. Lichens with their subdued colours can be enjoyed on walls and on fallen branches of trees. Those growing on stonework can be roughly aged by measuring from the centre to the outside edge, where every centimetre equals five years.
Whatever you do over winter be sure to get out to enjoy nature at Avon Wildlife Trust's nature reserves. Listen out for tawny owls at Willsbridge Mill or Brown's Folly nature reserves. Look for lichens at Warren nature reserve. Search for mammal tracks at Priors Wood or Portbury Wharf nature reserves.
Avon Wildlife Trust is the local wildlife charity dedicated to working to secure a strong future for the natural environment and to inspire everyone to appreciate and enjoy it. The Trust benefits from the support of more than 16,000 members. Go to avonwildlifetrust.org.uk for more information on Avon Wildlife Trust and ideas for winter wildlife walks on the Trust's nature reserves.
Joe McSorley is Avon Wildlife Trust's Community Action Officer