Quantock Hills Blog

How to….wildlife watch in winter

- #lovewintermore

Katy Coate

Posted by Katy Coate on 05 January 2015

How to….wildlife watch in winter Happy New Year all! Christmas might be over, and the mince pies might be gone (sob) but before we get too low and start thinking about how far away spring is,  it’s good to remember that winter is a time of extraordinary beauty and offers some pretty spectacular opportunities for wildlife watching. Without the camouflaging effect of leaves, birds are often easier to spot and rare migratory species stop over to refuel on their way to warmer climes. So why not don your thermals and woolly Christmas jumper, put on your dapper deer stalker hat, fill up your flask with sugary tea, pack some turkey sandwiches and head out to the wild places to enjoy the best that winter has to offer.

Learn your tide tables: The Somerset coast is world class for coastal bird species that are attracted to the mud flats of the Parrett estuary, the newly created additional salt marshes at Steart and the rocky cliffs at Kilve and West Quantoxhead. Head to Kilve and you’ll see oystercatchers, dulins, a range of gulls and curlews on the shoreline. Peregrines may also be there diving from heights, listen out for their distinctive screechy call. Did you know that the fastest ever recorded peregrine stoop, was 242mph!

Sleuth it: Look for tracks and signs left by animals,  snow is a great tool for helping you track animals (or humans). It shows up what’s been moving in the dead of night or has gone for an early morning stroll. You don’t always need snow though as mud and rain can be used to track animals too. It’s easy to start tracking; all you need are your eyes! Look for animal tracks crossing a footpath, find a rabbit hole and see where the rabbits go, is there any deer footprints or “slots” nearby. Which way are they going? How many? Are there any other signs? Animal poo? Hair? Trampled vegetation? http://www.naturedetectives.org.uk/download/hunt_tracks.htm

Score a birdie: Take your binoculars for a roam over the Quantocks. You may well see (hear!) cronking ravens, wheeling buzzards, singing song thrushes as well as the migratory red wings, fieldfares and wheatears, if you are really lucky you might spot a hen harrier. Go in the dimpsey evening light you may see starling murmurations and many other species of birds flocking to roost in their thousands.  The best starling murmurations though happen on the Somerset Levels and are a world class event. Click here to find out more http://www.visitsomerset.co.uk/explore-somerset/countryside/starling-murmurations

Get twiggy wid it: How do you identify trees without their leaves? Make like Sherlock and look for clues. You can cheat and look for dead leaves and fallen nuts or seeds around the tree. Although, ash holds on to its seeds (known as keys) in winter, so they will be hanging from the tree.  Bark is also idiosyncratic for each tree species, and you can also examine the twigs and buds for clues.  Here is a great nature detective twig ID from the Woodland Trust.

Calm down deer:
The best time to see red deer in the Quantocks is October, during the rut when the males perform and strut and bellow. After which they tend to calm down and head down to lush farmland fringes, where the food is more plentiful and the land is less disturbed than in the summer months. You will see deer all year round at Alfoxton, but otherwise an early morning or dusk walk is the best time to spot them.

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  • No avatar available
    Vicky Banham

    05 Jan 15

    Some great tips there Georgie. Excellent time for all sorts of wildlife especially those visiting wildfowl. The Great Crane project has a useful calendar which shows what to see when:

  • No avatar available
    Paul Redican

    06 Jan 15

    The Quantocks is indeed a beautiful place all year round.
    I shall be out hopefully photographing the local wildlife this week looking for Red Deer and King Fishers in particular.

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