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What To Look Out For - February 2018

  • Fri 26th Jan, 2018

As we approach February our spirits are raised by the longer days and the thought that the worst of the winter is over… But for many animals this can be the toughest time of year.

With freezing conditions on the continent and depleted food supplies many birds are forced to move or face starvation. With enough fat reserves and good weather however, flying across the North Sea is not as tough as we may think, especially for powerful birds such as migrating geese. Look out for skeins of geese flying in a tight ‘V’ formation to save energy, this is a great sign they are truly wild birds. Feral resident species such as Greylag Goose and Canada Geese tend to fly in looser flocks having far less need to save energy during shorter flights.

White-fronted, Tundra Bean and Pink-footed Geese Cayton Carrs January 2018 © Richard Baines White-fronted, Tundra Bean and Pink-footed Geese Cayton Carrs January 2018 © Richard Baines

In the first half of January 2018 the first small flocks of White-fronted Geese to be seen this winter in our area made landfall on our Yorkshire coastline. These birds are easily recognised from other small grey geese by the distinctive white colouration around the base of the bill and in adults the black bars running across the belly. They breed in European Arctic Russia and northwest Siberia with large numbers wintering in the Netherlands and Belgium.

White-fronted, Tundra Bean and Pink-footed Geese Cayton Carrs January 2018 © Richard BainesWhite-fronted, Tundra Bean and Pink-footed Geese Cayton Carrs January 2018 © Richard Baines

As these birds travel from harder conditions in the east to milder western parts of Europe such as the UK they often mingle with other wild geese. In the vale of Pickering recently we have been blessed with small groups of three species of wild geese; Pink-footed Geese breeding in Iceland and Spitsbergen, Tundra Bean Goose breeding in Arctic Russia and the White-fronted Geese mentioned above. Look out for any of these species in arable or pasture fields almost anywhere in East or North Yorkshire but especially in the Vale of Pickering.

Weasel at Whitby January 2018 © Paul Paddock Weasel at Whitby January 2018 © Paul Paddock

The Weasel and the Wheatear

On a recent trip to Whitby, whilst I was leading a wildlife tour, one of my group noticed movement within a stone wall not far from the Abbey. Out popped a Weasel just a few meters away, to the delight of our group. These beautiful animals can be equally as active during the day and night especially in the winter. A thin layer of body fat means they easily lose heat in colder temperatures. In February Weasels will be working extra hard to keep this layer of body fat sufficient to achieve a healthy breeding condition in the spring. Look out for them along the edges of grass meadows, hedges and gardens anywhere that small mammals can be found. This is their favourite prey. The Whitby Weasel was no doubt searching for mice in the holes of the stone wall.

The subject of our trip to Whitby that day was a very smart Desert Wheatear. These birds are rare in the UK. The nearest breeding population to the south of us is in Morocco and in the east Kazakhstan. Unfortunately after bringing pleasure to hundreds of visiting birders and photographers the Desert Wheatear at Whitby Abbey has now vanished and in its usual place only tail feathers could be found this week, maybe it was snatched by a predator, maybe even the Weasel we were watching!

Rare and Scarce Wildlife to Look Out For

In the third week of January birdwatchers are still enjoying the Hawfinches in both Brompton church yard and around Dog Kennel Lane in Thornton-le-Dale. Hopefully they will still be present during February. A small influx of Bohemian Waxwings has arrived in Scarborough during January so look out for them in towns or villages throughout East and North Yorkshire in the coming weeks.

Richard Baines, Yorkshire Coast Nature