Winter is a truly magical time of year. Yes the nights are long and the days are short, and it can be cold – very cold in some years.
But as the festive season approaches and frost begins to take hold, there are plenty of amazing wild highlights outside.
Here are ten of the best reasons to go outdoors this winter and experience the best of the season.
The plucky robin
Many of us are now looking forward to the rapidly approaching festive period. A time when magical reindeers pull a sleigh through the air, snowmen and dogs play in quiet gardens and many of us sit down to an impossibly large turkey dinner.
No other bird invokes the spirit of winter and the festive season like the robin, with their bright red breasts adorning many a card. Perhaps it’s because of their association with postmen, the red breast lending a splash of colour to a dull winter day, or simply that they are one of the few birds that can be heard singing on Christmas day defending territories.
Take a walk on a frosty morning
With falling temperatures and clear skies come those lovely frosty mornings. We in the UK have some amazing countryside, parks and areas of outstanding national beauty that should make getting up early in the morning a real pleasure on these days.
Browse some beautiful frosty morning images in the Winterwatch Flickr group.
Watch winter wildfowl
Winter is the best time of year to watch ducks, geese and swans. You may not think it, but they come here in the tens of thousands because our winters are relatively mild and food can be easy to find; returning in spring to their breeding grounds. Look out for large flocks of geese in coastal areas, and some of the rarer ducks such as the pintail and goldeneye.
Find a place to see the wintering goose spectacle.
The holly and the ivy (and the mistletoe)
You may think that the growing season is over and all the flowers and fruits are a distant memory. But take another look and there is a bucketful of colourful berries around. They winter fruits are a very important food source for wildlife. The red holly berries and black ivy berries are attractive to a range of birds, but the white mistletoe berries are only really eaten by mistle thrushes.
Of course you’ll also find these decorating many a household this festive season.
Sounds as well as sights
There is more than the sound of sleigh bells to be heard this winter. It’s not so much of a silent night when tawny owls are about, because at this time of year you can hear the classic hooting calls between male and females. But they’re not the only birds making a noise this winter; listen out for the courtship drumming of great spotted woodpeckers in January and February.
Birds attracted to garden feeders
Winter can be a tough time for birds to find food, so it can be important to regularly leave out food and water for them to supplement their diet. High fat foods, such as fat and suet balls, in the cold weather help to maintain their fat reserves, also favourites such as seed mixes, mealworms and peanuts will be most welcome.
So if you help our feathered friends this season, you’ll have a colourful display to watch in your garden. For advice or to get started read the RSPB guide on when to feed wild birds and Countryfile’s how to care for birds in winter.
In winter many birds roost together, sometimes in phenomenal numbers, for warmth and safety. One of the most well-known and impressive is the starling mumurations that can be seen across the country, from the somerset levels to Brighton Pier to Gretna Green. But other birds can be seen in large numbers roaming the countryside together: corvids such as rooks and jackdaws, thrushes such as fieldfares and redwings, and even pied wagtails.
Changing colour for the season
Just as our countryside can change colour from summer to winter, some of our animals change their colour to match. Mountain hares’ coat for example changes from a russet brown to white or grey colour in winter, it helps hide them in the mountain snow. But if the snow melts early, they can stand out like a sore thumb. Likewise Scotland’s ptarmigan has a mixture of grey, brown and black colour in summer, turning almost totally white in winter.
Let it snow
There are some predictions, such as Bewick swans arriving early and a strong El Niño year, which may suggest that we are in for a very harsh winter – perhaps the worst for 50 years. If true, we may be in for some snow; it could be a blessing for those who love sledging, but a curse for those who need to travel.
See what the Met Office has to say about the weather prospects for the coming winter.
We have already covered the wonderful wildfowl that come to our shores in winter for our warmer weather. But look out for some of our smaller and more colourful visitors in your garden this winter: bright bramblings and fieldfares to white snow buntings and the exotic-looking waxwing. Waxwings usually arrive in low numbers, but some years when food is scarce in their breeding grounds, they can arrive in large numbers; it’s called an irruption when it happens.
See which birds migrate and about waxwing irruptions with the RSPB and seasonal movements explained by the BTO.
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