February >>

<< December

Mouse over species links for pictures;
click links for detail page


is when winter really begins to bite. Siskins, finding it more and more difficult to find birch and alder seeds, appear more frequently in gardens looking for 'free' food alongside the resident tits and finches.

Small mammals like shrews and voles spend all their waking hours looking for food: if you search in thick tussocky grass you can easily find their runs.

Fields provide little cover at this time of year, so it is a good time to see flocks of lapwing or hares, while in the woods it is easier to catch sight of secretive deer like the muntjac – an introduced deer no bigger than a labrador dog and now widespread across Essex.

Even in mid-winter the first flowers are starting to show. Alder and hazel catkins are starting to lengthen and at the end of the month start to produce pollen. Dog's mercury, usually an indicator of long-established trees, flowers along the woodland edge and along hedges with its green stalked tassels.

Coral spot fungus gives a splash of colour on dead twigs in the woods, as do lichen flowers. There are about 1,700 species in Britain, many confusingly similar, so identification is a real challenge. The Natural History Museum provides an interactive key to those that grow on twigs: click here to visit.

January is a good time to visit the coast, if you choose the right day. Watch the sea with binoculars to spot small flocks of ducks, for example long-tailed ducks, scoters or mergansers. Birds swimming and diving singly are likely to be red-throated divers, or less commonly great northern divers.

Visit coastal reserves like Tollesbury Wick, Cudmore Grove, Marsh Farm or Blue House Farm to see large wintering flocks of brent geese or wigeon on the grazing marsh. Visit Abberton Reservoir or Hanningfield Reservoir to see large numbers of wintering teal and many other ducks, grebes and gulls.

Photo © Les Borg