In many ways winter is the best time of year to watch ducks, geese and swans. Firstly, the winter sees our highest numbers of birds present and the males, or drakes can be seen in their brightest plumage. If visiting a wetland area such as Idle Valley Nature Reserve, off North Road on the edge of Retford, look out for flocks of migratory geese or flocks of less common ducks such as goldeneye, goosander and pintail.
Once the first snowfall of winter arrives, even if it’s just a light dusting it 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 have less vegetation on them at this time of year meaning footprints can often be made out.
When you’ve exhausted the opportunities presented by looking down at the ground, Winter is a great time to look up to the tree tops as there will be many birds forming winter roosts. Large gatherings high in the trees provide a couple of distinct benefits for birds, providing both 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 is a real spectacle. Whilst very different to the almost balletic displays that starling flocks put on before descending 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. A good place to head 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 listening out for tawny owls which are at their noisiest in December. Listen out for their familiar ‘twit twoo’ call. If you listen carefully you may be able to distinguish between the make out the sharp ‘ke-wick’ call of the female and the more wavering ‘hoohoo’ of the male.
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 www.nottinghamshirewildlife.org.
Image © Margaret Holland