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December

is a time when birds gather in flocks to search for food. Groups of tits move through the woods, and often through gardens as well. Finches and buntings, such as snow buntings and yellowhammers, feed in flocks around the coast, and flocks of lapwings and golden plovers gather on damp farm fields.

Many birds exploit the 'free food' available in gardens. More and more blackcaps are overwintering here rather than migrating to Africa, because of the milder weather, and they eat berries in gardens and sometimes even come to birdtables.

Harsh weather in the north brings more birds to Britain. More waders join the many already here and in some years large numbers of waxwings arrive, feasting on any berries they can find.

Most plants are dormant now, but the yellow of mistletoe, which takes its nutrients from the host tree, stands out among the bare branches, as does the bright red of holly berries, often guarded aggressively by mistle thrushes.

Most insects are dormant now, but mild spells may awaken some from hibernation. Small tortoiseshell butterflies often hibernate in houses or in garden sheds and you may find one fluttering against the window pane. If it's in a heated part of the house, let it out to find more stable temperatures elsewhere.

Ladybirds congregate in cracks or crevices in dozens or even thousands. Insects exploit a whole range of hiding places to pass the winter and if you search carefully it is not difficult to find them, but take care not to disturb them and leave their cover as you found it.



Photo © David Harrison