Our top 10 wildlife sightings for January

From early spring flowers and farmland birds to frosty footprints there’s plenty to look out for this month.
Snowdrops

Snowdrops

Drifts of snowdrops poking up through the woodland floor and along riverbanks are a welcome sight in cold, winter months. They generally flower between January and March and are a sure sign that spring will return again!

Bowdown Woods Moss Walk - Crisped Pincushion

Bowdown Woods Moss Walk - Crisped Pincushion by Peter Creed

Mosses

Did you know there are more than 400 species of bryophytes (mosses and liverworts) found in Berks, Bucks and Oxon?

Winter is a great time to learn more about these tiny plants, which can be found in a variety of habitats including woodland, grassland, heathland, on dead wood and rocks.

Local expert Peter Creed is leading a series of moss walks in February and March. Beginners are particularly welcome to come along.

Book a moss walk

Learn more about the mosses in Berks, Bucks and Oxon with Peter’s book:

A guide to finding mosses

Water rail

Water rail by Margaret Holland

Water rail

Water rails are heard more frequently than seen as they skulk around in reedbeds and other wetland habitats looking for snails, insects and small fish to eat.

Listen out for a ‘squealing pig’ in reeds and you’ll be close to a water rail.

Listen to a water rail

Cetti's warblers

Cetti's warbler by Amy Lewis

Cetti's warbler

Another bird that skulks around in scrub close to water is the Cetti’s warbler. It can be tricky to see but loud bursts of song give away its location.

Once you’ve heard a burst of bubbling song, look for a small-medium sized dark, stocky bird with an upright tail flitting around dense bushes.

Listen to a Cetti's warbler

Bittern

Bittern by Tim Stenton

Bittern

The last ‘hard-to-spot in the reeds’ bird on our list is a winter visitor in our counties. Bitterns are herons that are well-camouflaged in amongst reeds with their streaky buffy and brown plumage. They’re often easiest to see when they fly over the reeds before descending down again to hunt for fish.

Look out for bitterns at Weston Turville Reservoir and Calvert Jubilee, both in Bucks.

In spring the males make a booming noise to attract a mate, which can carry far over the reeds. 

Linnets and rosehips

Linnets and rosehips by Amy Lewis

Linnet

Linnets are small finches that gather in large flocks in winter. They are on the British Trust for Ornithology’s red list as a bird of conservation concern as the population in the UK has fallen in the last few decades. 

Look out for them in the countryside, feeding on seeds in arable fields and farmland. Wells Farm is a working farm that’s run by BBOWT in harmony with nature. Seed-bearing crops in winter provide food and shelter for linnets and other finches during the cold months.

Yellowhammer

Yellowhammer by Mark Hamblin/2020VISION

Yellowhammer

This bunting used to be abundant in hedges and farms across the UK, however, populations have declined dramatically, more than halving since 1970. This is largely due to changes in farming practice.

BBOWT is working with farmers to make ‘bird-friendly’ areas on their land, to restore and maintain the hedgerows that offer yellowhammers a home, and to grow crops that provide seeds in winter.

Yellowhammers are is usually recognised by the male’s bright yellow head, and distinctive, high-pitched song described by some as saying ‘a little bit of bread and no cheeeeeese’.

Lapwing and rainbow

Lapwing flying against rainbow by Nick Upton/2020VISION

Lapwings

Lapwings have a distinctive flight, swooping and swerving overhead showing flashes of black and white wings, accompanied by their ‘pee-wit’ call. These ground nesting birds are now on the British Trust for Ornithology’s red list as a bird of conservation concern as the population in the UK has fallen in the last few decades.

Look for them in open country, such as farmland or marshy grassland including the Upper Ray Meadows, College Lake and Hosehill Lake.

Rookery

Rookery by David Hawgood

Rookeries

Rooks are often seen in large flocks feeding on the ground, where they hunt for worms and insects or seeds. At dusk in winter they gather in large numbers to roost in trees, these gatherings are known as ‘rookeries’.

All the black corvids can be tricky to tell apart at first glance, but here are some tips:

  • Unlike rooks, crows are often seen singly or in pairs. Crows are completely black including their bill.
  • The Dutch name for a rook is ‘mouldy bill’ as their bills are grey.
  • Jackdaws are smaller black birds, with a greyish head and pale eye.
  • The largest black bird you may see in our area is a raven, which has a diamond-shaped tail in flight and a distinctive ‘cronking’ call.
Deer tracks

Deer tracks by Amy Lewis

Footprints in snow and frost

On cold, frosty days head out early and see if you can spot animal prints on the ground. Which birds and animals have been roaming around?

Many of our mammals, such as badgers and stoats, are secretive and hard to spot. Cold, snowy or muddy ground is a good place to look for signs that they’ve been active while we’ve been sleeping. 

This handy guide will help you identify whose footprints you’ve spotted.

Snow prints guide