Wildlife to watch in January
Catkins are normally associated with spring but the catkins of Hazel are starting to lengthen and flower now. Hazel is monoecious, meaning that both male and female flowers are found on the same tree, although Hazel flowers must be pollinated by pollen from other Hazel trees.
Each catkin consists of 240 individual flowers arranged on a dangling stem, and when fully ripe it only takes the slightest touch to release a cloud of microscopic pollen grains. These can be carried over a great distance on a favourable breeze in the hope of reaching their intended target, a female Hazel flower, which look like tiny crimson sea-anemones nestling against leaf buds.
Pollen from the catkins of Hazel, Alder and Birch are a common cause of seasonal allergic rhinitis, commonly known as hayfever.
Fieldfares are large members of the thrush family and are winter visitors from Scandinavia. They arrive in October and stay in Essex until the spring when they return to Scandinavia to breed.
Often the first sign of their presence is the distinctive sound of their “schack - schack” calls as they fly overhead in flocks of up to 200 birds. They have bold plumage with a white underwing which is most noticeable when in flight.
Their diet mainly consists of berries, fallen fruit, worms, and insects.
The hedgerows of the Flitch Way and surrounding fields provide an ideal habitat for this winter visitor. Fieldfares are on the Red list which means they have the highest conservation priority.
This intriguing little bird is a joy to watch and can often be seen in gardens and along the Flitch Way where, as would be expected with such a name, it creeps up and down trees. The Treecreeper is an unmistakable bird, with a white chin and underside, white eye stripe, brown back and wings with white speckles, and a thin curved bill.
Treecreepers are fascinating and fun to observe, as they make their way up and down tree trunks and limbs in search of food. Their movement is jerky and deliberate, with the tail pushed up against the tree in the way a woodpecker does. They are a solitary species in the breeding season, though, interestingly, in the winter months individual birds will often join mixed flocks of tits.
Also look out for
Redwings are the smallest true thrushes that reach our UK shores. They have red flanks and a prominent yellow stripe above each eye.
The Redwing is a winter visiting thrush from Scandinavia and Iceland, usually arriving in late September and staying until March-April. The Scandinavian birds usually winter in southern Britain and the Icelandic birds in Scotland and Ireland. The Icelandic birds are slightly larger and darker than the Scandinavian birds. They roam across the UK's countryside, feeding in fields and hedgerows, rarely visiting gardens, except in the coldest weather when snow covers the fields.
They are thought by some to indicate the arrival of autumn in some regions of the UK.
The Bohemian Waxwing derives its name from the blobs that look like red sealing wax at the tips of some of its secondary flight feathers. It does not breed in the UK but they are occasional winter visitors when food in their usual Northern Europe and sub-Arctic runs out.
They are very gregarious birds, flocking together in small parties to feed on the berries of shrubs such as dog rose, guilder rose, holly, hawthorn and rowan. Waxwings will also venture into parks and gardens when food in the countryside becomes scares. They have been seen locally this winter.
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