Whether you’re looking to burn a few calories before the festive season or just blow away the cobwebs, getting wrapped up for a winter wildlife walk on a chilly day is so satisfying! While the trees may be bare, and everything feels a little like it’s on hold, the RSPB points out there’s still plenty to see, even in the midst of winter.

Woodland walks

Just the smell of woodlands has been shown scientifically to enhance our moods, so they’re great for winter walks, helping lift our spirits during the darker months.

Look out for...

  • Fungi – this comes in all shapes and sizes, from scarlet elf cups, which look like drinking vessels for tiny woodland folk, to yellow brain fungus, a brightly-coloured jelly-like mass that forms on dead wood. Different trees and settings will produce all kinds of different but equally weird fungi and lots of colours.
  • Birds – leafless branches make it easier to spot birds flitting about the canopy. Look out for a flash of red – it could be a friendly robin or maybe a great spotted woodpecker. Handsome grey and rust-coloured nuthatches are easily identified, as they’re our only UK bird able to walk up and down tree trunks – quite a sight if you spot one!

RSPB reserves with great woodland walks include: Sherwood Forest, Lake Vyrnwy, Loch Garten.

European nuthatch Sitta europaea, adult climbing down a tree, Bedfordshire, December (Ben Andrew rspb-images.com)

Coastal walks

There’s nothing more bracing than a walk on a beach or a coastal pathway above one. The smell of the sea and the sound of the crashing waves and gulls overhead make for a perfect mood-enhancer.

Look out for

  • Migratory wading birds – estuaries, such as The Wash in Norfolk, provide the perfect stop-off points for birds on their migratory route, or over-wintering in the UK, as they’re muddy flats are packed with food. You can see knots and pink-footed geese in their thousands, giving spectacular displays at RSPB Snettisham. Other RSPB estuary reserves include Conwy and Mersehead.
  • Dune flowers – dunes are really special, unique places, and need to be tough to handle the conditions they face. Marram grass is the spiky, thick tufted grass that forms many dunes. Its dense mass of roots helps keep the dune stable, which allows other plants to grow there. Lovely yellow gorse flowers throughout the year – its needley leaves help it survive in salty, windy conditions. Have a smell – surprisingly, they have a coconut-like scent!

RSPB reserves with great beach walks include Minsmere and Culbin Sands.

Closer to home

Just being out for a walk closer to home, there’s lots to enjoy. Cold weather means many birds flock together more. On a mammoth scale, when tens of thousands of birds get together, they can form a murmuration, which is truly stunning. But there’s many smaller examples to look out for, which are all fun to watch.

Look out for

  • Large groups of thrushes, finches and tits, flitting around trees and hedgerows looking for food.  And listen out, also. Whilst most birds don’t sing at this time of year – they don’t want to waste precious energy outside the breeding season – song thrushes are one of the earliest birds to start, marking out territorial claims from as early as January, whilst robins never stop singing!
European starling Sturnus vulgaris, flock in murmuration over reedbed, Northamptonshire, November (Ben Andrew rspb-images.com)

For more ideas for fun things to spot on a winter wildlife walk and where to find them, visit www.rspb.org.uk

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