Winter Wildlife Watching

Winter 2020/2021 has been, for many, one of the toughest in years. I’m going to start this off now by saying that I spent two months at my parents’ home over winter, for the goodness of my health and wellbeing. So the wildlife in this entry, is not from my usual patch – but it is all local to my parents’ home, in the midlands, in England. 

While lockdown was tough, there was still so much joy to be gained by nature. We made efforts every day, no matter how glum we were feeling, to do something nature related. It’s not a magic fix – the World is tough right now and its normal to feel sad or down about it. But nature provides a way to take your mind off it, to focus on positives, and to be mindful that life is continuing – and that can all help to alleviate some of the heightened emotions that we’re pretty much all feeling! 

A winter surprise

When I’m at my parents’ home I do a lot of garden birdwatching. I don’t have a garden where I live – so I make the most of theirs! Just after Christmas, it got very cold and we had several days of snow. I always look out more in this weather, because often you can see more birds than usual, and more species. This is because the cold weather makes it harder for birds to find food – so they often try new places and travel a bit further. 

I have to say though, I’d given up and was happily reading when my sister called me into the room which looks out onto the garden. “There’s a bird in the tree and I don’t know it what it is” she said. Now my sister is still a beginner when it comes to ID but in terms of spotting birds she’s incredibly skilled – I always see something I’d have otherwise missed when she’s around! At a glance I could see a medium sized brown bird, a bit like a thrush but not quite. “It couldn’t be a…surely not a…we never see them…” I ran to get my binoculars so that I could be sure. There it was, clear as day – a redwing! A single, beautiful, redwing just randomly sitting in our tree in the garden.

Redwings are members of the thrush family, and they can be distinguished by the white stripe above the eye and patch of red under the wing. They are winter visitors to the UK which migrate from their breeding areas in Iceland and Scandinavia. I normally make special birding trips in the countryside to try and see them  – to see one without even leaving the house, was just amazing. 

Eating out of the palm of my hand

One of our frequent places to walk was the local park, known as the Washlands because it’s next to the river. Part of the path is surrounded by trees and overgrown shrubs; this is where we see the robins! 

One particular robin, whom I have named Robbie, is really quite tame. People bring him food, so he’s very used to people and knows that its often worth his while to hang around. I should say – I don’t actually know that Robbie is a boy; male and female robins look very similar! 

So one day, me and my Mum decided to take some seeds for Robbie. We whistled next to his usual tree (sounds a bit silly but it works!) and Robbie appeared. I held out my hand with my palm open, full of seeds, and waited. Robbie kept glancing and edging slightly nearer. My arm started to ache; I was beginning to wonder if this was going to work. Then all of a sudden, Robbie flew into my hand! It was the quickest of moments, he just picked up a seed and flew back to the safety of his branch; but the feeling of his little feet on my palm, his small weight, and the elation of the moment is one I will never forget. 

Robbie the Robin © Catherine Leatherland

A very grey day

As is normal for winter, quite a few of the days were cold and/or grey. One particular walk by the river was very grey and drizzly  – almost foggy. It was the kind of rain the slowly makes you soaking wet without you realising it, until you’re too wet to do anything about it! 

I glanced over to the other side of the river, and there on the bank was a grey heron. It was huddled up on the bank, shielding itself from the rain, resting. In terms of heron watching I’ve had more exciting views – they’re great fun to watch while they’re hunting and flying. However, there was something very peaceful about just watching it be; putting up with the grey day and waiting for better, just as we were. 

Grey heron on the riverbank © Catherine Leatherland

Grebes – little and great!

There are certain species that I commonly see on this stretch of river: Mute Swans; Canada Geese; Black Headed Gulls; and Mallards. I am however always open minded to the fact that something else might pop up! And its a good thing too, because on two separate occasions I spotted Great Crested Grebes, and Little Grebes! 

As it was winter, both were in their winter plumage (the feathers in winter). They were still wonderful to watch, and it was exciting simply because I don’t normally see them there. As I was taking a video of the Little Grebes, a woman walked past and loudly said to her partner “I don’t know what exactly she’s trying to take a photo of” as if I was being silly, because all she could see was the river. It’s such a shame, because had she just asked me, I would very happily have shown her!

My first top tip for wildlife watching: keep both your eyes, and mind, open!

Great Crested Grebe – winter plumage ©Catherine Leatherland