Twelve days of wild Christmas
Looking for ways to keep busy this festive season? We have lots of ideas below!
1. Go for a moonlight walk
Long nights mean that you can take children for a moonlight walk without compromising bedtime too much. Choose a bright, frosty night – even better if there’s snow on the ground – and don’t use torches. The reflection of moonlight off snow or white frost makes it easy to see in the dark, and turns everything to a magical world of silver and shadow. Switch on all your senses, listen out for owls and foxes, smell the scents of the countryside and take delight in the shining night. Make sure everybody has high visibility reflective clothing if walking on lanes.
2. Look out for hawfinches on Whitcliffe Common
These chunky finches are seen much more easily in winter when the trees are bare, and large numbers of migrants join our resident birds. 10 – 15,000 hawfinches winter in Britain, but only 1,000 or so nest here. Their heavy beaks are adapted for cracking fruit stones such as cherry, and they’re particularly fond of hornbeam seeds- abundant at Whitcliffe. Unmistakable with their large size (twice as heavy as a chaffinch), heavy-looking head and powerful triangular beak, admire their lovely rusty orange-brown plumage.
3. Take a woodland walk and search for bracket fungi
Some spectacular specimens can be found, with wonderful names like Dryad’s Saddle, Beefsteak fungus and Turkey Tail. Some Birch Polypore, a common bracket, was found hanging round the neck of Otzi the Bronze Age ‘Ice Man’ found in the Tyrol in 1991- it has medicinal uses with antiseptic, antifungal and immune-boosting properties as well as being an extremely useful tinder which catches from a weak spark and can be used to transport fire, smouldering slowly until used to start the next fire. Very handy before the invention of matches!
4. Have fun hunting cones
How many different ones can you find? Maybe long, pale brown, thin-scaled spruce cones – they hang down from the tree. Fir cones are similar, but stand upwards on the branch. Look out for Douglas Fir cones with the little ‘mouse tail and feet’ sticking out from the scales. Pines have hard woody cones which are inflexible. Try making model animals out of cones, or finding ones that have been nibbled by mice or squirrels.
5. Have a garden bird-race with friends and family!
How many different species can you spot in your garden in the agreed time – over the course of a day, perhaps. You could do it with the family just in your own garden, or compete against friends with everyone counting in their own garden.
6. Start to tame a robin
Put out mealworms – robins find them irresistible. Once the robin gets used to coming close to the house for food, you can gradually accustom him to your presence, putting out mealworms and then backing off until he comes to feed. You can then gradually decrease the distance you retreat as he gets used to you. Eventually he may become tame enough to take food from your hand.
7. Read a good book about nature
We would recommend anything by John Lister-Kay or John Lewis-Stempel, The Butterfly Isles by Patrick Barkham, Orchard: A Year in England’s Eden by Benedict Macdonald and Nicholas Gates or Wilding: The Return of Nature to a British Farm by Isabella Tree, but there’s so much choice you’re sure to find something that amuses, inspires and uplifts.
8. Watch one of our videos on You tube
Shropshire Wildlife Trust has been busy during lockdown producing ‘events’ online, since we can’t come out to play. The backlist includes beavers, owls, hedgehogs, rivers... Something to do on a wild wet day!
9. Visit your local lake/mere/reservoir and look for winter wildfowl
If you’re really lucky you might see a whooper swan family, flown in all the way from Iceland, often in a single 600-800 mile flight. Dapper little teal, elegant pintails or a whistling flight of widgeon will all lift the spirits on a cold winter’s day.
10. Wrap up warm, pull on your boots and go for a walk on the Mosses
Somehow, the bleakness of midwinter adds to the ancient feel of the place. It feels like you have gone back in time, the glaciers have just retreated and there might be a small herd of mammoths just round the corner! But even if you miss the mammoths, you might see a short-eared owl cruising on silent wings in search of voles.
11. Head out for a winter picnic! Why wait for summer?
Warm, windproof clothing will keep you cosy and a brisk walk to your picnic site will get the blood flowing. Take something waterproof to sit on, a flask of hearty soup, some sandwiches and flapjacks, and enjoy an al fresco feast in the wild. We would recommend Nipstone, Catherton Common or The Hollies, but there are hundreds of lovely spots throughout Shropshire. Choose your favourite or make it a real adventure and try somewhere new to you.
12. Become a nature detective, and search for wild footprints.
Snow is best, but mud will do. You might be surprised who’s been crossing your lawn in the night!
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