January 2017: Wildlife Watch

December 20 2016

They say that firewood warms you twice, first when you chop it and again when you burn it.

They say that firewood warms you twice, first when you chop it and again when you burn it. 

Watching wildlife can provide a similar dual benefit – you experience the pleasure first when you see the frosty web, the tree-top raven or the midnight fox, and again when you remember it (perhaps many times). And this is why wildlife watching is such a great pastime as it also gets you out of the house, is a way of meeting like-minded people, motivates you to improve your environment and save the planet and improves your physical and mental health!

Right now, in the grip of winter it can be hard to resist the chilly fear that spring will never come again – one memory that always reassures me is from when we lived in Redland, some 30 years ago. We lived on Hampton Road and had a big bay window which faced south with an unattractive view of the busy street and the petrol station opposite. One day, sometime in May, we watched a great thunderstorm passing over in the late afternoon. Volleys of raindrops hit the window as the iron-grey clouds marched grimly overhead, firing off the occasional bolt of lightning. But at last the wind gentled and the clouds began to lift and clear and, suddenly, there were swifts! They were riding in on the cloudy coat-tails of the gale. The first swifts of summer are always a sight worth noting but this time had a special drama to it. They were surfing the wake of the storm, letting it tow them northwards to their breeding grounds in our own sweet city. 

City wildlife is not always so dramatic but our area has its moments. I wrote about waxwings in December and if you are lucky enough to see a flock of these dashing visitors this year you will probably remember them for a long time, especially if they’re in your own garden. Happy local memories of mine include seeing a slow worm crossing a Bishopston road at midnight (this didn’t seem like a sensible plan so I intervened, releasing it at the allotments the next day); watching a great-spotted woodpecker calling from the top of our walnut tree; and even seeing a crane, flying high over our house, several years ago (binoculars were vital to confirm that one). 

You won’t see a sight like that every day but there is always something of beauty to see, wherever you live. Coming soon to a street near you  – the first butterfly of the year (over-wintering red admirals are surprisingly hardy and will take advantage of any sunny day - we once saw one on New Year’s Day), or perhaps a perky jay raiding her acorn stores, crows scolding an invading raven at the allotments, or a badger marauding by moonlight. Don’t forget to keep looking; the next new memory may be just around the corner. Happy New Year to you all!