For the vast majority of people, even man "country folk" the concept of exploring the countryside during the winter months, is an alien one. Alright the short days don't afford the opportunities for après work excursions, but most of us get at least one day off every week and the weekends often bring quite agreeable weather.
So, what can one see in the countryside during the winter months? Well I have to admit if you are exclusively a botanist, then you might consider staying home and reading a book, but wait, a recent November ramble produced Common Knapweed, Yarrow and Field Scabious and recently Snowdrops and even Lesser Celandine have appeared as early as December.
For anyone interested in birds and mammals the winter months can be very exciting. I frequently annoy my wife by telling her I look forward to winter (she would rather hibernate!), but it is true. When else can one look forward to the possibility of Hen Harriers and Short-eared Owls within a few miles of Rippingale? And a visit to the coast (try Frampton Marsh near Boston) will not only yield a very good chance of seeing the aforementioned raptors, but also perhaps a tiny Merlin falcon in hot pursuit of a Meadow Pipit, or perhaps a majestic Peregrine "stooping" on flocks of arctic breeding waders, that congregate on our shores in literally tens of thousands.For anyone interested in birds and mammals the winter months can be very exciting. I frequently annoy my wife by telling her I look forward to winter (she would rather hibernate!), but it is true. When else can one look forward to the possibility of Hen Harriers and Short-eared Owls within a few miles of Rippingale? And a visit to the coast (try Frampton Marsh near Boston) will not only yield a very good chance of seeing the aforementioned raptors, but also perhaps a tiny Merlin falcon in hot pursuit of a Meadow Pipit, or perhaps a majestic Peregrine "stooping" on flocks of arctic breeding waders, that congregate on our shores in literally tens of thousands.
Another recommendation which will combine the prospects of excellent coastal bird watching with some mammals is a visit to Donna Nook, near North Somercotes, in the north of the county. Pay a pound to park and if you go at the weekend prepare for hundreds of other people who come to see the spectacle of a Grey Seal colony, complete with fierce looking bulls (the term for a male grey seal), much smaller subservient cows and cuddly looking cubs ranging from pure white through khaki to dark grey. They are all very tame at this time of year and will often approach within a foot or so of the low fence separating curious people from seemingly equally curious seals. On a recent visit I witnessed a conversation between a father and his four year old daughter, whist admiring a particularly extrovert seal cub.
"Oh come on Daddy, we can keep it in the bath."
"It won't stay that small for very long"
"Oh go on, let me have one!"
Both Grey and Common Seals occur on our shores. The wash coast, or better still a boat trip in to the wash from Boston, will provide excellent views of the latter.
So, having had sufficient of the seals, or in my case the crowds of people walk further along the coastal path to enjoy the birdlife. Highlights of my November visit included a flock of about 80 Snow Buntings feeding among the seaweed and flotsam. Go again in late winter or early spring and many of these birds will be moulting in to their gorgeous summer plumage, ready for their return to their mountain nesting grounds. Sanderling, tiny, almost white waders ran along the sand at the very point where the waves lapped the shoreline. Brent Geese were also feeding on the mud flats and would periodically rise in a noisy gaggle, for me one of the most evocative sounds of the salt marsh. Further north along the shoreline thousands of Knot were feeding. The sight of thousands of Knot wheeling around the skies in perfect close formation is surely one of the wonders of the avian world?
Away from the coast you might like to take one of our very local walks that encompasses both farmland and woodland. There are many to choose from. This will usually provide a wonderful variety of winter visitors; thrushes from Scandinavia including "chuckling" Fieldfares and the more delicate Redwings and maybe mixed flocks of Lapwing and Golden Plover in the more open fields. Our woods and hedgerows might produce Siskins and Redpolls feeding on alder cones and if you know where beech trees grow look out for Bramblings, feeding with the more usual Chaffinches on fallen beech mast. Scan the mixed flocks of tits, now easier to see in the leafless branches because they might include Marsh Tits or the very similar looking and much declined Willow Tits. Long-tailed Tits will certainly be in evidence but look carefully as these flocks are often joined by Goldcrests (our smallest bird), Treecreepers and Nuthatches.
Mammals are easier to see at this time of year too. Is that brown lump in the field a clod of earth or a hare? (If it moves its ears it's a hare!)
Deer are common in all our local woodlands. The larger herd forming fallow are pretty well guaranteed, but go quietly along the woodland rides for a good chance to see the tiny Muntjac. Red Deer are possible near Grimsthorpe and the native Roe Deer is becoming more frequent, although still a rarity in these parts.
If none of this inspires you to go for a Sunday morning stroll in the countryside, then consider the benefit to your appetite for Sunday lunch and perhaps a well earned glass of beer!
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