Posted on 1st December 2016
Much of our wildlife has little time to feed now that the days are short and the nights are long. Harsh weather can make things even more difficult.
Some birds migrate to less hostile places further south while many more animals either hibernate or reduce their activity until better conditions return. As a consequence long walks in the countryside can reveal little wildlife at this time of year - but some habitats can be more productive than others.
Nature reserves with open water - especially lakes, ponds and rivers - are always worth visiting in December because they attract ducks, geese and other water birds.
Large flocks of wigeon and teal call evocatively from the water’s edge and there is always a chance of seeing birds of prey such as a peregrine, merlin or sparrowhawk flashing through the flocks of birds, trying to secure a meal.
Where are the best places to visit? Rutland Water Nature Reserve holds by far the largest numbers of water birds in Leicestershire and Rutland, but the Trust has a number of other wetland nature reserves where they can be seen, for example Cossington Meadows and Wanlip Meadows.
A good vole summer is often followed by a good Short-eared Owl winter – and last winter was certainly a good one for seeing Short-eared Owls at the Trust’s Cossington Meadows Nature Reserve. Can the same be said for this winter? There are already reports of an owl hunting over Swan Meadow.
Seeing a Short-eared owl hunting for small mammals, including voles, is a memorable sight. A medium sized owl with yellow eyes, its streaked brown body and pale under-wings blend perfectly into the short vegetation of open country. Although largely regarded as nocturnal and crepuscular (dusk and dawn), it is frequently seen hunting in broad daylight.
A skilled predator with keen vision, even in low light, and hearing accurate enough to pinpoint a small mammal in the undergrowth, it also displays impressive aerial agility.
It is best looked for in winter when there is an influx of continental birds from Scandinavia, Russia and Iceland – and there was a steady stream of birds arriving along the North Norfolk coast during November.
The Short-eared owl is of European conservation concern and so is an Amber List species.
Photograph: Short-eared owl at Cossington Meadows Nature Reserve (Claire Install/LRWT)