January is one of the darkest and coldest months of the year.
With many plants retreating underground, devoid of foliage or overwintering as seeds, the landscape can look barren. The countryside is also a quiet place this time of year, with only the robin singing fully on clear frosty mornings interrupted occasionally by brief performances from the wren or the frequent sharp alarm calls of the blackbird.
Most people want to make the most of the few daylight hours available and this is also true for wildlife. January can be a great time to get out on sunny mornings and start to explore the countryside around you, you’ll be surprised what you can find!
Compared to summer the UK’s bird population is very different in winter. Many birds that breed here in the spring and summer have migrated south for the winter, however, during these colder months we see an influx of ducks, geese, waders and thrush species, like the familiar redwing and fieldfares, that come to the relatively mild climate of the UK to wait out the worst of the winter weather.
This makes January and February a great time to see many of the UK’s migratory bird species. Until spring, holding a breeding territory is put a side, meaning many species come together into flocks to forage in large mixed groups. As mentioned above, redwings and fieldfares often flock together, feeding around rough pastures and groups of long-tailed tits and be heard chirping to each other as they move through the bare woodland canopy and hedgerows. This is also a great time of year to see the giant flocks of starlings that roost on reed beds on the Somerset levels at night, creating spectacular aerial displays as they settle each evening.
With little vegetation around and quickly diminishing food supplies you can often spot many bird species that would otherwise be too elusive, as they congregate around concentrations of food such as wild bird seed mixes and artificial feeding sites.
The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) run the Big Farmland Bird Count this time of year to gather valuable data on farmland bird population across the UK. These counts can be a great way to start working on your bird ID skills and explore the species in your local area. The survey runs from between 3rd and 12th February, all that’s required is for you to spend 30 minutes in one area of your farm noting all the birds you see. Recording your sightings on a GWCT record sheet, which can be submitted online. FWAG South West are running some of the training days for the count this year. These training days can be the perfect way to get a solid introduction or work on your farmland bird identification skills with similarly minded people and find out more about the count.
For further information on the Big Farmland Bird Count and to book a place on a training day visit the Big Farmland Bird Count website.