As winter extends its icy grip, how do the forest animals react to this most challenging of seasons? Forest Ranger, AJ from Keldy lets us into some of the secrets of winter in the forest.
The migratory birds of the summer have long gone, leaving behind the hardy native species and the winter settlers. We’re all familiar with the Christmas card robin, but look out too, for Redwings, Barn Owls, Kestrels, Lapwings and the orange hues of the Brambling.
Of these, the Redwing is most commonly encountered as a winter bird and is the UK's smallest true thrush. Redwings are smaller than the Song Thrush with red flanks and a prominent yellow stripe above each eye. They come down to Keldy from the North.
The North Yorkshire coast is fantastic for winter waders. At Scarborough you will spot Sanderlings, Turnstones and Purple Sandpipers – not unique to these coasts, but very much a feature of the Yorkshire winter, indeed Yorkshire is an internationally recognised area for Purple Sandpipers.
Further inland, look for fieldfare – colourful thrushes often seen in large flocks, swirling around the winter skies. Omnivores, they will eat worms and bugs if the frozen earth allows, as well as hawthorn berries and even turnips in the ground.
What do animals do in the winter? Well, contrary to popular belief, only three British mammals hibernate: hedgehogs, dormice and bats. This leaves plenty of other animals to spot on your winter walks. The most common is the grey squirrel. It is a misconception that squirrels hibernate, they are active throughout the winter, but they do store food in preparation for the lean pickings of winter. Much like we might get in extra supplies if snow is forecast.
Badgers might also be spotted if you are lucky. They do slow down in the winter and stay underground for longer periods, but they don’t hibernate and will be sniffing around for food from time to time.
With trees stripped bare of leaves and the foliage died back, spotting animals in the forest becomes easier. Other winter animals you might have a chance of seeing are voles, shrews, mice, hares, foxes and deer. And of course, if we get a snowy winter the animals will be even easier to spot and to track. The best time to go out is early in the morning after an overnight snowfall. Animal tracks will be undisturbed on the fresh snow and the stillness of the forest will make spotting a moving animal easier.
A winter woodland walk can be one of the most rewarding activities in the world. But you need to prepare well for the weather. Here are some tips:
- Waterproof boots – The humble welly is the hero of winter walks. Keeping your feet dry is imperative, as wet feet mean cold feet, means a cold body.
- Layer up – thin layers are better for keeping body heat in than one big heavy layer. They also give you the advantage of being able to adapt to the temperature.
- Head, hands and feet – keep your extremities warm. If they are warm, you are warm. So, hats, gloves and socks – with spares.
- Drinks and snacks – Your body is working hard to keep warm and conserve energy so pack some energy bars and a thermos of something warm.
One final piece of advice: Never go into a frozen river or lake, even after your pet.
Come and meet the winter wildlife
I hope I have shown you that the winter wildlife here in Yorkshire is still very much alive and active. From the coast, where waders gather, to the moors, where stags stand proud and birds of prey swoop, to our very own forest, where birds, foxes, badgers, owls and squirrels hunt for berries, nuts and seeds to get them through to the first warmth of spring, there’s plenty going on.
Come and see us at Keldy, and meet the wildlife up close. My walks and activities continue throughout the winter and once back in the warmth of your cabin, you can watch squirrels, robins and other winter visitors looking for food outside your windows.