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Winter Cairngorms

There is still plenty to see...

The trees have lost their leaves and the days are shorter, darker and colder. These things are part of the seasons, and part of living half way between the equator and the north pole. Despite people staying indoors more, winter has plenty to offer walkers who make use of the quieter paths and frosted mornings, and that includes experiencing wildlife.

Britain may have many birds that migrate here from the south for our summer, but we also have birds that come from the north and overwinter here. The migratory species of geese and swans are the easiest to spot of these species as they’re large and distinctive, and will frequently have travelled from all over the Arctic, from Greenland to Iceland to Siberia, to the same wetlands, lakes and parks they have always come to.

Two species to start with are the Barnacle Goose, which can be found in northern Cumbria, Ireland and the far north of Scotland, and which can be identified in comparison to the more widespread Canada Goose by its white face. Another is the Brent Goose, which has a fully black face, and can be found all along the south-eastern and south-western coats, as well as on the coast of Northumberland. Even if the birds are far above and hard to identify, the sight of any group of geese flying in formation against the winter sky should make any walk a spectacular journey.

If birds are your thing, there are many more species that can be seen only in winter. And if you’re like me and seem to scare them away as soon as you get the binoculars out, at least bare trees make seeing anything that bit easier.

Yorkshire Coast Nature

The other advantage of winter is that animal prints are preserved in snow and cold thickening mud. It’s often the case when walking over a quiet moorland or through a woodland that can appear all but deserted, that these prints are surprisingly numerous. It’s especially satisfying to see evidence of animals that are only infrequently seen, especially by those of us who live in towns and cities. It won’t take you long to identify key mammals such as badgers and hares, and the knowledge that you have crossed their paths can really enhance your day.

Animals however aren’t the only wildlife that make winter walking such a pleasure. Though autumn is traditionally the season for mushrooms, there are often species which make it through the year to January, from the uplands to woodlands. And just because the leaves have gone doesn’t mean the woodlands are any less beautiful; if you want to work out what the trees are, you can often just examine the leaves under your feet; and look out for berries, especially on holly.

If you’re unsure where to start, why not go on a guided walk, where there will probably be people who are also keen to look at the world around them. And if your guide isn’t a wildlife expert, at least they can do the navigation so you can keep your eyes on the view.

Author: Alex Kendall

Pictures: Courtesy of Yorkshire Coast Nature

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