Nature Notes

by Brin Best

Wharfedale Naturalists’ Society

THE greatest Christmas gift you can give your family this year is to head out into that wild place beyond your centrally-heated lounge with the aim of filtering in what is so easy to filter out during our busy lives.

Most of us will have Christmas cards on our mantelpieces featuring the iconic robin - recently voted Britain’s favourite bird - but how many of us have actually studied this charming bird closely as it goes about its life outdoors?

Did you know that many robins wintering in Britain are actually seasonal visitors from mainland Europe, skipping back over the sea when spring arrives? Or that garden feeding stations actually help huge numbers of robins to survive the winter when insect food can be so difficult to find?

Filtering in the natural world is about recognising how you can use your senses to appreciate what is so easily, and tragically, ignored.

Our sense of sight can be used to pick out a foraging robin, the first sign of snowdrops on a hedgebank or a crouching hare in the furrows. It can also be harnessed to appreciate the colours of winter, when nature’s palette takes on a characteristic set of hues.

I also enjoy trying to pick out as many different nature signs by ear in winter. Some birds, such as mistle thrushes, are already in full song ahead of their early nesting season. Others, including our little friend the robin, set up winter territories lit by street lights. And the shrill bark of a fox can penetrate a misty day with the sharpness of a sparkling icicle.

I am always drawn to the textures of tree bark in winter, and there is a real pleasure in exploring different species by hand, when one’s eyes are not drawn to the verdant foliage above.

Getting outdoors, when it might be so tempting to switch on the TV to enjoy another festive movie, is one way of reconnecting with the natural world - our natural world. Many people talk of having little time for nature; perhaps they just need to reassess their priorities?

If you miss the opportunity for a festive nature walk this year, then you really are missing out on the best free show we have. A show which will convince you that, in 2016, making time to filter in the natural world is a necessity, not a luxury.