There’s plenty of wildlife across the region in December, says Julian Hughes, if you know where to look.
Christmas cwtch – Mistle Thrush (Joshua Hackett)
December’s Christian festival builds on a far older history of celebrating the Winter Solstice, so there are strong associations between nature and Christmas. The tradition of hanging Mistletoe, for example, can be traced back to the Druids, to ward off evil spirits. It’s hemi-parasitic, growing on a host tree without killing it. It’s scarce in the wild in North Wales, but becomes more common as you head south and east.
Mistle Thrush is a bird associated with Mistletoe and found across North Wales. With its pale brown upperparts and splodgy undercarriage, they feed on the white Mistletoe berries, helping to spread the seeds through their poo. Listen out for Mistle Thrushes in December; their harsh, rattling call is unlike any other bird.
Night terror – Fox (Malene Thyssen)
Foxes are our commonest large mammal, venturing into towns as well as being abundant in the countryside. They’re often more visible in winter months, when food is in short supply, the ground is frozen and the daylight hours are short. Foxes mate in the winter, when both dogs and vixens produce a blood-curdling scream as a contact call. Vixens are most receptive to mating for just a few days in midwinter, so any potential mate needs to shadow his intended partner closely to deter rivals.
Flying lollipops – Long-tailed Tit (Francis C. Franklin)
A cold snap will bring more birds to your garden, especially if you provide treats for your visitors. Small birds, such as tits, form feeding flocks, roving around woodlands and gardens to optimise their search for food. Long-tailed Tits, tiny pom-poms of black and white feathers, arrive in flocks of a dozen or more, but stay alert as they don’t stop for long.
Don’t forget to register for the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, which takes place at the end of January. Visit rspb.org.uk/bgbw
Fantastic ferns – Welsh Polypody (Johan Naumann)
There aren’t many wild flowers blooming in December, so take a closer look at ferns. Welsh Polypody (Polypodium cambricum) is a semi-evergreen plant whose narrow fronds unfurled in late summer and will now be well established. It usually grows on old walls (the town and castle walls in Conwy are a good place to look); an easy way to spot it is that the two fronds closest to the base stick up like rabbit ears.
Pull your own Christmas tree
Help the North Wales Wildlife Trust maintain their upland bog nature reserve in the Conwy Valley, by removing conifer saplings from Cors Bodygynydd near Llanrwst LL28 0YZ. And you can take one home! Phone (01248) 351541 for details.
Three places to visit in December
Inland Sea, Holy Island
The water between Anglesey and Holy Island is a tidal lagoon, protected from winter gales and impounded by the A55/railway causeway to the north. Birds such as Scaup, Goldeneyes, divers and grebes feed in the shallow water. The best approach is along the east side, on foot from Four Mile Bridge, in the morning when the low sun is behind you.
Upper Dee estuary
The RSPB manages large areas of the estuary for wildlife, and one of the best places to enjoy it is from their Burton Mere Wetlands Reserve (CH64 5SF). From the network of hides, or from the Visitor Centre with its homely wood-burning stove, you can see thousands of Wigeons and Pink-footed Geese, and you might see a raptor or two such as Hen Harrier or Short-eared Owl.
Black Rock Sands
With sunseekers gone, Black Rock Sands is given back to nature during the winter. Best with a telescope, the sea from here to Criccieth is home to waterbirds sheltering from winter storms. Common and Velvet Scoters, Long-tailed Ducks, grebes and divers are offshore when the sea is calm. And late in the afternoon a huge murmuration of Starlings may head for the wetland behind the beach.
Julian Hughes grew up in North Wales, which instilled a lifelong love of nature. He lives near Llandudno, manages the RSPB’s public affairs work in Wales, and writes about the region’s wildlife.