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Winter Watchlist 2022

Winter continues to bring with it a whole host of incredible wildlife!

We've got a new list of seasonal highlights to look out for in our Winter Watchlist for 2022, which will provide you with more inspiration on your wintry walks.

Again, there’s something for everyone to look out for. Absolute beginners and seasoned naturalists will all have their challenges: from stunning starling murmurations, to winter gatherings of elusive roe deer, to spotting signs of harvest mice nests.

What’s on your Winter Watchlist? Share your photos and videos with us using #WinterWatchlist on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter

Starling murmuration - easy

Starling murmuration by Emily Smith on Flickr
can be seen in the early evenings

These mesmerising formations can be seen in the early evenings and can range from just a handful of birds to hundreds of thousands of them in suitable roosting sites. With each individual paying close attention to the movements of those around it, the group maintains cohesion in the air. The sheer numbers and constant changes in direction create a shifting cloud of feathers, making it near impossible for a predator to pinpoint a single target. In the UK starlings have faced steep declines of over 80% since the 1970’s.

Lesser celandine - Ficaria verna - easy

Lesser celandine by Jodie Mellowship on Flickr
amongst the first wildflowers of the year to bloom

Lesser Celandine are amongst the first wildflowers of the year to bloom, usually from late February onwards. They have glossy, dark green, heart shaped leaves and bright yellow petals with a star like configuration. The flowers open in the morning and close in the evening, as well as during wet weather. This intermittent opening and closing is known as ‘nyctinasty’ and is thought to be a defence mechanism against nibbling predators, such as slugs and roe deer.

Winter gnat - easy

A winter gnat
an elegant and enchanting courtship dance

These tiny flies belong to the Trichoceridae family. It’s thought there are up to 14 species in the UK. They are present all year round but during Winter, the males of some species gather on warm, calm days to perform an elegant and enchanting courtship dance, in order to attract females.

Mammal tracks - easy

Otter prints by Tim Martin on Flickr
winter can be a brilliant time to spot mammal tracks

Thanks to crisp white snow – or more often, lots of mud - winter can be a brilliant time to spot mammal tracks. The footprints can be quite distinctive depending on the animal’s weight and the way they walk. Otter tracks can be identified by the webbing between their five toes, and roe deer by their roughly four and a half centimetre long, two pronged hoof, followed by two tiny dew claws. Following footprints can be a great way to get to know which mammals also like to wander in your local patch.

Whistling wigeon - medium

Wigeon by David Brooker on Flickr
Males have a charming and distinctive whistling call, which whirs on the wind

Wigeon breed in northern England and Scotland, but in Winter their numbers swell with the arrival of birds from Iceland, Scandinavia and Russia. They graze on grass leaves, roots, stems and seeds on mudflats and saltmarshes around the UK coastline, as well as arable fields, wet grasslands and freshwater bodies inland. It is estimated that they must feed for 14 hours every day in order to meet their daily energy requirements! Males have a charming and distinctive whistling call, which whirs on the wind as they wheel around in flocks.

Grey herons nest building - medium

Grey heron nest building by Michael Hughes on Flickr
Nesting begins from February onwards

Grey Herons nest in colonies known as Heronries. Heronries may be located in a wide variety of habitats, from wetlands and farmland to villages and city centre parks. Nesting begins from February onwards. Built in the canopy, the nest consists of a platform of sticks lined with grass. Heronries can endure in the same place for decades and nests are re-used, repaired and expanded year after year.

Roe deer - medium

Roe deer by Christina Marsh on Flickr
roe deer come together to feed during winter

Usually solitary or in small groups, roe deer come together to feed during winter. They have an incredible winter survival strategy. They mate in mid-summer, but the development of the fertilised egg is put on pause until it is implanted in January. This means the young aren’t born during the coldest winter months.

Winter tree identification - medium

T(h)ree by Johnson Cameraface on Flickr
Become familiar with their beautiful bark, buds, twigs and overall shapes

Winter is the perfect time to learn to identify trees using features other than their leaves. Become familiar with their beautiful bark, buds, twigs and overall shapes. Silver Birch and Ash are easy trees to begin with. Silver Birch has peeling, paper-like, white bark, which becomes riddled with dark fissures as the tree ages. Meanwhile Ash has very distinctive velvety black buds.

Harvest mouse nests - hard

Harvest mouse nest by Adrian Holloway on Flickr
conservationists rely on finding abandoned nests

In summer and late autumn, harvest mice are busy weaving their nests. These nests are around the size of a tennis ball and provide a safe home for their young, camouflaged in the tall grass. When the grass dies back in winter it’s the perfect time to spot these nests. As Europe’s smallest rodent (sometimes weighing less than a 2 pence piece!) they’re pretty hard to catch, so conservationists rely on finding abandoned nests to learn more about this elusive species. If you’re lucky enough to spot one of these in tall tussocks of grass, please do not handle. You can report it on the Mammal Society’s ‘Mammal Mapper’ app.

Goldeneye - hard

Goldeneye by James O'Neill on Flickr
every year many more arrive from Scandinavia

Since the 1970’s small numbers of Goldeneye have bred in northern Scotland, but every year many more arrive from Scandinavia to overwinter on lakes, reservoirs, large rivers and sheltered coastlines across the UK.

Brambling - hard

In winter, they swap their summer diet of insects for tree seeds

Brambling migrate to the UK from breeding grounds in Norway, Sweden and Finland, arriving late September onwards and remaining until around April. In winter, they swap their summer diet of insects for tree seeds - in particular, beechmast. They will spend the winter wandering from one source of beech mast to the next, covering vast distances in huge flocks. Occasionally, if there is a lack of beech mast, they will visit gardens where they prefer to feed on the ground. Join in with the RSPB’s Big Garden Bird Watch from the 28th-30th of Jan 2022.

Snow flea - hard

Snow flea by Gilles San Martin on Flickr
They live amongst mosses

Adult snow fleas are only active during the cold winter months. The secret to their survival in winter’s harsh conditions is a certain sugar which acts as an antifreeze agent in their body fluids. They live amongst mosses but are most obvious when seen hopping across snow.

What’s on your Winter Watchlist? Share your photos and videos with us using the #WinterWatchlist on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter