Winter is one of my favourite times of year. Not only is there the excitement of Christmas (which at 21 years old is still very important to me) and my birthday, but also the stunning beauty of nature. Frosts, snow, diluted sunshine – it’s a photographer’s dream. I cannot wait for the first real frost to arrive, when once again I’ll be rummaging around in the garden on my hands and knees clutching my trusty macro lens.
As winter approaches, there is always a rush of social media posts about visiting migrant birds. Stunning images of waxwings, redwings and fieldfare dominate the birdwatching online groups. While I love to see rare visitors in the UK, there are more common species coming to the fore during the colder seasons too.
The long-tailed tit is easily recognisable, with a tiny body and unnaturally long tail. These charismatic birds are nearly always seen in groups, and with a weight of less than 10 grams, sticking together can be a lifesaver in the winter months. As temperatures fall during the night, long-tailed tits roost together in large groups of related birds, lining up on branches and huddling for warmth. Long-tailed tits are particularly known for their altruistic behaviours. If one pair loses their eggs, they will help a relative raise theirs. This behaviour is known as cooperative breeding.
Another bird that is more prominent in winter, but far less endearing than the long-tailed tit, is the great black-backed gull. This formidable animal is bigger than a buzzard, and bad habits including stealing food from some birds and eating others has given this gull a bad reputation. Nonetheless, great black-backs are impressive to watch, and during the winter months they are drawn inland by swelling migrant populations. This means now is a good chance to see this amazing species up close.
One voice that sings long into winter is that of the robin. This plucky redbreast is often thought of as a winter bird, when it is found all year round but simply stays put when other birds migrate during the colder months. Despite their beautiful song, robins are fiercely territorial. Who can blame them, when food and shelter is so scarce during the winter? Perhaps the epitome of Christmas is seeing a plump robin perched on a berry- and snow-strewn branch. It may be a controversial opinion, but I can’t wait for the snow to come. Seeing how bitterly cold it’s been recently, hopefully the wait won’t be too long.