A winter wonderland of wildlife in Yorkshire

The Yorkshire Wildlife Trust highlights some of the winter wildlife to look out for and some of the wild places to visit during the festive season. Grace Hammond reports.

Two brown hares in a frosty field. (Picture: Elliott Neep).
Two brown hares in a frosty field. (Picture: Elliott Neep).

THE onset of winter is often seen as nature’s signal that it’s time to batten down the hatches and hide away.

Interestingly, there are only three British mammals that do actually hibernate - hedgehogs, dormice and bats - along with Mason bees, queen bumblebees and butterflies.

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Which means there are no shortage of wildlife highlights to enjoy at this time of year. Not only that, but with winter here it can be easier to spot birds and animals given the paucity of ground cover and leaves on the trees.

You can enjoy watching hares bound across open grasslands, or a flock of fieldfares chattering in the hedgerows. The days might be shorter, but heading out early is a good time to catch wildlife feeding.

Plus, what better way is there to walk off all that turkey and Christmas pudding than by heading out into the wilds of God’s Own County?

Here are some of the highlights to keep an eye out for during the rest of the festive season and into the New Year.

1) Discover winter gems

Many of us head to the coast for a family walk over the Christmas holidays and the rock pools at Flamborough are full of all manner of marine life, from edible crabs to bright red sea anemones.

You can warm up with a hot drink in the Trust’s Living Seas Centre at South Landing Flamborough whilst the children enjoy the activities and displays on offer. Why not head on over for a Sunday stroll?

2) Watch a kingfisher

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust Adel Dam Nature Reserve next to Golden Acre Park just north of Leeds is a great spot to enjoy watching kingfishers that have bred on the reserve.

The bright blue flash stands out against the wintery background of this tranquil nature reserve. Birds of prey also frequent the site with a resident sparrowhawk and visits from buzzards and red kites.

3) Build a nest box

Early winter is a good time to put up nest boxes, in advance of the breeding season. Birds may well use them to roost in during cold periods too, with some species such as wrens roosting communally.

Boxes can of course be purchased but you can also have a go at making your own; download our ‘How to build a nest box’ factsheet today http://www.ywt.org.uk/factsheets

4) Enjoy a woodland walk

Without the cover of deciduous shrubs and trees a winter woodland walk can be a great time of year to see wildlife. Fox, squirrel and deer along with woodland birds may all be spotted.

Ensure you keep your clothing rustle free and natural in colour to make yourself as inconspicuous as possible.

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust Moorlands and Askham Bog nature reserves make a nice escape from York’s hustle and bustle but if you really want an adventure try Grass Wood near Grassington, or Little Beck Wood near Whitby nature reserves.

5) Animal tracking

Practice your tracking skills after fresh snowfall, a hard frost or even rainfall – mud makes a great track trap. Look out for the four imprints of a hare or the ‘slots’ of deer. It is tricky to tell fox footprints from those of a small dog take a peek at the illustrated guide on the Trust’s website.

6) Spot six species of tit

Six species of tit can be found in Yorkshire gardens, parks and woodlands, though willow tits are becoming scarcer these days. With the right food on offer your garden can provide a welcome winter refuge for great, long-tailed, blue, coal and even marsh tit. An identification guide can be found on the Trust’s website.

High energy seeds, nuts and fat-based products are perfect. Why not have a go at making your own fat balls on a rainy day with the family.

7) ‘Whooper swans are swimming’

January is a super time to head out in search of whooper swans which spend winter in the UK, flying over from Iceland where they breed. These elegant swans feed in farmland and roost on wetlands.

Their beaks are yellow with black, rather than orange like our resident mute swans. Great places to see them include Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Wheldrake Ings, North Cave Wetlands and Pulfin Bog nature reserves.

8) Identify trees

All too often we walk past trees without really noticing them, so this winter why not take some time and learn to identify them by their shape, bark or new buds. Whilst tricky, many common species are easy to identify with a bit of practice. The remains of fallen leaves provide clues too.

9) Study a hedgerow

See how many plants and animal species you can find in a hedgerow. Owls, kestrels and sparrowhawks hunt along hedgerows and redwings and fieldfares often feed together here, sometimes in huge flocks. Holly and ivy berries are enjoyed by a number of birds, including blackbirds and thrushes like redwings and fieldfares that over-winter in Britain.

10) Airborne predators

Winter is a great time of year to watch birds of prey. In Yorkshire, you could see up to ten species in one day with a bit of planning and luck. Birds of prey appear to be more active during the winter.

The shorter days mean a narrow window to hunt in and they have to keep up their food intake to give them lots of energy to keep warm. Head to Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Staveley Nature Reserve for red kite, and Spurn or Kilnsea nature reserves for merlin, peregrine and hen harrier.

11) Spot Urban wildlife

While bats hibernate well into February, they may leave their roost on warmer nights to hunt. Look out for deer, foxes and badgers at dawn or dusk and watch birds coming in to roost before sunset.

Hedgehogs may wake up from their winter hibernation so if you put food and water out for them please remember to keep it topped up over winter. Find out other ways you can help hedgehog this year on the Trust’s website.

12) Wonderful Winter wildfowl

Huge flocks of duck, geese and wading birds gather around wetland and coastal areas at this time of year; a true winter spectacle. Look out for sea ducks such as common scoter, often spotted in large rafts between Flamborough and Withernsea. And if you head further up the coast Filey Brig is also a great spot to see common eider.

Wildlife spotting in winter

With a big freeze in Scandinavia we may see large numbers of goldeneye coming into the UK for our milder climate. Goldeneye is a freshwater duck which will head to our large, deep water lakes to feed.

Our resident population of bittern may also be joined by Scandinavian bittern which head to the UK in winter.

The increase will improve your chances of spotting this elusive and threatened species; Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Potteric Carr Nature Reserve near Doncaster is a great place to see them.

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust highlights wintery wildlife to look out for and wild places to visit.

For more details visit Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s website www.ywt.org.uk