Posted 5th Feb 2018
This time of year, there will be some beautiful sights along our waterways...
Winter is the perfect time to spot deer, as their typical hiding places in dense woodland become sparse. Badgers and foxes are easier to spot in the winter, especially as the bright red fur of the fox stands out against the otherwise dull and wintery backgrounds.
Badgers have long oval shaped pads with five toe prints. It will be unusual to have five toes touch the ground in this way - otters are the only other British mammal to do this. However, there's a difference. Otters have a webbing between their toes, which contributes to their top swimming abilities.
Fox footprints are harder to discern, as you will find their foot is like a dog footprint. A simple way to tell is to draw a horizontal line between the two forward toe pads and the back two toe pads - if you can draw a line straight through, you must have a fox track.
Birds are easier to see during the winter and, although some of our familiar summertime species will have disappeared, you can still see a whole host of species appear in the winter months. Many rural canals and rivers will twist their way through arable farmland - these fields are the best place to spot some of our winter tourists, including the redwings and fieldfares. These two species will look like the song thrust, and sometimes, you will be able to see redwings and fieldfares flocking together. It's tricky to tell them apart, but the eagle eyed will see a red flash on the underwing – this is what lends itself to their name.
Bewick's and whooper swans are other winter visitors, gathering together in large impressive flocks over the cold months. Long-term studies on these birds have identified individuals by the markings on their beaks, providing a wealth of information about the way family groups stick together for many years.
Recent research has found some of our smallest mammals, bats, will migrate. Tiny nathusius's pipistrelles are fans of the wide, open canal waters and lakes - however, they have occasionally been known to turn up on oil rigs in the North Sea.
The appearance of these little animals suggests they fly across the sea - in the last couple of years, it's been confirmed that two pipistrelles have migrated over from the continent; one from as far as Latvia. There is still a lot to find out about these creatures.
Information and images courtesy of the Canal & River Trust