Despite many creatures choosing to spend the winter away from our shores or hidden away from view in winter, December still has many wild delights.
I usually focus on what wildlife there is to see and enjoy month by month, but in winter there is plenty of wildlife you won’t see. You are unlikely to see any reptiles until they emerge to bask in spring sunshine. Until then they will be hiding away somewhere where the temperature is more stable – often underground or deep in piles of logs and vegetation. Similarly, our amphibian friends such as frogs, toads and newts look for safe locations with stable temperatures to spend the winter in a hibernation like state known as brumation. Some frogs and toads will spend the winter at the bottom of ponds where the lower temperatures mean they are less likely to wake during mild spells on the surface.
You are also unlikely to see hedgehogs, dormice or bats – the three British mammal species that truly hibernate – except perhaps for fleeting glimpses during unseasonably mild periods. Waking in winter can be a real hazard for animals designed to hibernate until spring as it can quickly deplete vital energy reserves.
Given that reptiles, amphibians and bats rely largely on insect food, it is perhaps no surprise that many insect species are also pretty much absent. Other creatures you will not see include the birds that travel to the UK each year to breed – such as swifts, swallows and martins.
Despite these temporary absences there are plenty of wild winter delights to enjoy, from feisty red-breasted robins to the huge flocks of waders, ducks and geese that can be enjoyed on wetland sites or spotted grazing open fields. Many of these wetland birds will have arrived from Northern Europe or even the Arctic and our relatively mild winters mean that there is plenty of open water and unfrozen ground to provide both safety and feeding opportunities. Delights to look out for include flocks of lapwing, teal and gadwall. If you are not adept at identifying wild birds, winter is at least good for a spot of swan watching. In amongst large groups of mute swans, you might spot the odd Bewick or whooper swan. With around 200,000 each of greylag and Canada geese overwintering here, there is more than a gaggle of geese to enjoy.
As we are currently in the midst of the worst ever pandemic to affect the UK, it would be remiss of me not to mention Avian Flu. Increasing numbers of wild birds are being affected and there are serious impacts on commercial poultry farms but you can help by reporting possible outbreaks.
Reporting dead wild birds
You should call the Defra helpline (03459 33 55 77) if you find:
- one or more dead bird of prey or owl
- 3 or more dead gulls or wild waterfowl (swans, geese and ducks)
- 5 or more dead birds of any species
Do not touch or pick up any dead or visibly sick birds that you find. For further information visit www.gov.uk/guidance/avian-influenza-bird-flu#public
Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust sites such as Idle Valley Nature reserve and Daneshill Lakes near Retford and Besthorpe Nature Reserve north of Newark are great places to see wetland birds in winter. At Idle Valley, the welcoming café and shop at the southern end of the site is the ideal spot to grabbing a warming drink whilst checking what birds have been spotted. Details of our nature reserves, events and campaigns can be found at www.nottinghamshirewildlife.org.
Main image: Teal, Steve Plume