Posted on 1st January 2017
In midwinter many of our nature reserves are quiet places. Grasslands such as Lea Meadows can still offer a lovely walk, especially on a crisp, sunny morning, and there is always the chance of seeing a buzzard or two circling overhead.
Late afternoon, when dusk is approaching, is an atmospheric time when crows and pigeons are gathering to roost in the woods, and foxes and owls come out to hunt. Trust nature reserves such as Prior's Coppice, Charley Woods and Charnwood Lodge are worth a visit, but don’t forget your wellington boots as the rides and paths can be particularly muddy.
In January wildlife is most apparent at the Trust’s wetland nature reserves: Rutland Water holds huge numbers of wintering wildfowl and Cossington Meadows is a good location for a winter walk to see little egrets, lapwings and flocks of thrushes.
Species of the month: Fox
January is a good time to watch and hear foxes. If, at dead of night, you hear an eerie scream that is answered with a bark, it is most likely foxes meeting to mate. The vixens (females) are in season for just three days so the dog foxes (males) will keep their mates in sight at this time.
Foxes inhabit diverse habitats including woodlands and grasslands, and also adapt well to human environments such as farms and urban areas. Its resourcefulness has earned it a reputation for cunning.
Solitary hunters, foxes feed on rodents, rabbits, birds, fish, frogs and even worms —but their diet can be as flexible as their home habitat. They will eat fruit and vegetables, and will opportunistically dine on pet food and from dustbins and bin bags.
The fox's thick brush (tail) aids its balance and acts as a warm cover in cold weather as well as a signal flag to other foxes. They also signal each other by making scent posts—urinating on trees or rocks to announce their presence.
The vixen typically gives birth to a litter of two or more cubs in the spring. They are born with brown or grey coats that are replaced with red fur during their early weeks. Both parents care for the cubs before they strike out on their own in the autumn.
Photograph: Fox (www.elliottneep.com)