Winter really seems to be here now. It seems hardly believable that only last week there were still butterflies flying around down here in Bedfordshire. We’ve had our first frosts now though and I’m actually looking forward to a cold winter. Nothing really beats the still freshness of a frosty morning. There isn’t a lungful of air that will wake you up like that on a cold misty day. The darker mornings mean you’ve got a good chance of getting up and seeing some spectacular sunrises too, without having to set your alarm for some awful time that feels like the middle of the night.
The picture in this post shows one of my all time favourite natural things, frost covering a plant with a spiders web draped over it. If you’ve been watching Frozen Planet you will have seen all the time lapse filming of frost crystals forming. They’re incredible, so tiny and beautiful. If you’ve got a magnifying glass take a close up look at the frost next time we have a cold morning. you can also do this with binoculars just turn them upside down and look through one of the end pieces.
This is seed time for the UK’s deciduous trees. Conkers, beech nuts, hazelnuts acorns and even pine cones are all types of tree seed. Just like fruits such as apples, berries and pears some of them are very tasty to animals. Squirrels absolutely love hazelnuts so if you manage to find some that the squirrels haven’t already got their paws on you’re quite lucky. Other animals and birds eat tree seeds too. Jays (like the one in the picture) behave in a similar way to squirrels, they collect seeds and nuts and bury some of them so that they have their own little store of food to eat during the winter months when there isn’t much else around to eat. Once a tree seed has been eaten or it’s protective shell has been broken it’s not going to turn into a new tree. However every year lots of little stashes of tree nuts that have been buried by squirrels, jays and other animals get forgotten about. It’s almost as if the animals have been doing a bit of gardening, the warm, moist dark conditions under the soil in springtime are perfect for the seeds to germinate and sprout to become tree saplings.There are almost always more tree seeds than the animals need to eat or store so some are left on the ground in the rotting piles of leaves below the trees themselves. Passing animals and people can walk over these, pushing the seed further into the ground beneath it’s very own compost made from the leaves that have fallen from the trees. So next time you’re out on a walk just remember you could be helping to plant the trees of the future without even realising it.
Forget wildebeest migrations or the northern lights. Right now, right here in the UK starlings, geese, ducks, wagtails, rooks, waders and other birds are performing a natural spectacle above our heads. Winter is a brilliant time to watch flocking birds. The pulse, swell and grace of a flock of birds all moving together is almost hypnotic. Starlings are one of the most common bird species you are likely to see flocking, they are the small dark ones that do the full acrobatic display. Look out for them at dusk, they’ll begin to gather in small groups ready to fly to their roosts (the place where the birds sleep) together and then the groups will get larger and larger as they all merge. Flocks of starlings can number in the tens of thousands of individual birds, blackening the sky and swirling and twisting almost like a single animal.
Pied wagtails are also well known for flocking, they tend to come together in dribs and drabs and aren’t quite as majestic as starlings. If you see a group of large black birds these are probably rooks, distinctive by a cacophony of cawing.
If you live near the coast you’re likely to see large flocks of geese at dawn and dusk as they fly between their roosting and feeding sites. Have a look at this video clip from the RSPB’s Otmoor nature reserve. The most spectacular footage is about half way in.