Some may avoid it by shopping online, some may do it earlier and some might just not do it at all, but I can't help but consider Christmas shopping as a necessary evil at this time of year. The crowded streets, bombardment of Christmas music over the radio and the cold weather don't make it a particularly appealing prospect for me. However, even the dreaded Christmas shopping can result in opportunities to observe some of natures spectacles. Here are a few things to look out for!
Pied wagtails - this charming little bird of our towns and cities is often one of the only birds you will come across in the street. If you can't see it you might hear it flitting between rooftops making it's 'chis-sik' call. During the winter they often gather in large numbers in towns where they roost communally in street trees.
Car park berry trees - most out of town shopping centres have some degree of tree planting and thankfully for our wintering birds they choose berry bearing species like rowans. Unfortunately this year we probably won't be seeing too many waxwings but keep an eye out on these trees just in case, you should see our normal bunch of winter thrushes and finches taking advantage, as well as the ever present woodpigeons and starlings.
Town parks - get away from the rat race for a few minutes to have a walk around any nearby town parks, you might find some waterfowl, stumble across a mixed flock of tits and goldcrests in the shrubs or even a few minutes watching the feral pigeons may help calm any frayed nerves! If there is a river running through the town then there might be a chance to see some otters, water voles or grey wagtails along the banks.
Look up - over the town many things could be happening to which the vast majority of shoppers will be oblivious. A peregrine may be perched up high surveying the area for the next meal, gulls may be passing overhead in their lazy 'v's heading to roost or a starling murmuration may be twisting across the sky before dropping into a nearby copse.
Late night shopping - keep an eye out for any foxes that might be lurking in the darkness, you might even hear a tawny owl.
Can you think of any other urban wildlife that could offer a welcome distraction during the Christmas shopping scrummage?
If you have followed our blogs over the years then you may have seen this mentioned before but of late we have had a spell of queries that prompted me to share this. Basically every year in late autumn (or early winter if you like!) we speak with people who are a bit puzzled as they have found a strange looking brown bird, often in unusual places like the centre of London. Over the last couple of weeks these queries have peaked.
So what is going on? Well at this time of year the UK is the chosen winter destination for thousands of woodcocks that have a summer home in Eastern Europe. After crossing the north sea they arrive on the east coast, many of them following obvious landmarks like rivers for example. One of our biggest rivers is the Thames and as these night flying migrants are following the river, many of them come to grief as a result of colliding with the many tall glass buildings across the capital, hence why the majority of people finding woodcocks are in London, many within a few hundred metres of the river. Unfortunately obstacles like buildings to a night flying bird with poor forward vision are a big hazard.
Thankfully not all the stories end in sadness, many of the kind people who find these stunned birds pick them up, seek help with local welfare groups or take the birds along to local open areas like a wood or park where this usually elusive bird would naturally be holed up during the daylight hours.
Recently we have also had a number of other reports of other species crashing into windows, I just spoke with a lady who had found a goldcrest on its back, encouragingly it was now standing up in the box she had popped it in and she intended to release it shortly. Our advice is to give the stunned bird a place to recover, a box or animal carrier, in a dark and quiet place for an hour or so, this usually helps them come round so they can then be released in the garden.
We also try to recommend that the windows where the bumps occur are made 'bird safe'! There is some discussion about what works best, we recommend bold transfers stuck to the outside of the glass. Have you tried this, has it worked for you, if so what shapes and colours did you use?
Don't be put off by the dropping temperatures, November is a great time to get outside and catch up with some of the best wildlife spectacles the UK has to offer. It just so happens that many of the species involved with these special wildlife spectacles begin with the letter 'S'! Here are a few examples in no specific order!
It's murmuration time yet again! We are already getting a few requests from people asking about where to go to watch these phenomenal roosting displays. The reliable sites like Ham Wall, Aberystwyth pier and Leighton Moss are well worth a visit but in truth, these roosts can turn up in the most unusual of places. Even a small stand of conifer trees can attract a roost of hundreds of birds, wherever you go, keep an eye out for small groups of starlings heading towards reedbeds, woodland or sheltered manmade structures like piers, you might stumble on a significant roost! Some more sites to consider can be found here. If you are heading down to Ham Wall, don't forget to check the starling hotline to get the latest news on the roost, call 07866 554142 or email email@example.com
If you want to see something really cute this winter then look no further than the grey seal pups that are being born around our extensive coasts right now. There are loads of places where you can get safe views around the UK, both for people and the seals, such as Horsey in Norfolk, Donna Nook in Lincolnshire and if you fancy seeing them by boat head to Morston Quay where you can get a trip to Blakeney point, Norfolk. They could be viewed from clifftops around many other parts of the UK as well especially in Cardigan Bay, the southwest, the Farne islands, Strangford Lough and many places in Scotland. Just remember not to approach them or take your dog along.
Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)
These graceful creatures are one of the highlights of the winter for me, I love the soundtrack of the whooper and Bewick's as they feed and socialise out on the marshes and graze on the stubble fields and pastures. Of course our native mute swan shouldn't be left out of the equation, they are just as stunning! Whilst mute swans could be found on pretty much any watercourse, our winter swans are best spotted at places like the RSPB Ouse washes or WWT Welney in the fens, in Scotland our sites at Broubster Leans, Abernethy and Fetlar and also down at WWT Slimbridge.
This is a tricky one and may take some travel for many of us but if you get lucky and find them it is well worth the effort. You might think you have to go to Scotland to see this spectacle but not so, some rivers in England, Northern Ireland and Wales have opportunities to watch the salmon run. I came across a blog on the Autumnwatch webpages with some interesting suggestions of places to view salmon.
Kaleel Zibe (rspb-images.com)
OK so it might not be as dramatic as a whirling flock of starlings or as cute a fluffy seal pup but there is a certain appeal in looking for fungi, maybe its the possibility of finding new species. Anyway trying to find new fungi species on your local patch is a challenge and worthy of a mention as some of them or very attractive, some of them have great names and some are just huge! Convinced? If you can get on a guided walk with a fungi expert then do so, it is amazing just how many varieties are all around us. Try your local woods or parks and see what you can see, or smell! Just make sure you don't eat anything you find unless you are sure of what you are doing, in most cases it's best just to look and photograph.