Wildlife can be thinner on the ground this time of year - or so it might seem.
Insects are few and far between and even birds are mainly quiet, localised and harder to pin down. This is certainly the case away from our bustling wetlands with woodlands, hedgerows and fields seeming eerily quiet at times.
However, this is the time to slow things down and zoom in on a world that’s easy to overlook among the riches of spring, summer and autumn. Stop to inspect walls, gravestones and the trunks and branches of trees because there is no shortage of fabulous wildlife there. Open your eyes to the fabulous world of lichens and mosses: they provide incredible mini forests and beautiful bright greens and yellows and mosses. It's a real injection of colour at a time when we need it the most!
How many species of lichen can you count on this branch? (image cMark Ward)
As someone who likes to put a name to everything I see, mosses and lichens are a tricky group. They provide endless opportunities to see or identify something new, but there are more than 600 species of moss and around 1,700 of lichen in the UK and in many cases they require extremely close observation. Using a hand lens or magnifying glass will really bring them to life.
Mosses grow in all sorts of place. Good places to look and to see just how many species there are, include the tops of wall, on tree trunks and branches, in your lawn, by rivers and in paths.
There are some great common names for mosses too, from grimmias, screw-mosses, feather mosses, birds-claws and beard-mosses, plus the spectacular sphagnum mosses growing in bogs that bring in shades of red and pink too.
Gravestones are often covered in lichens (image cMark Ward)
I’m still getting to grips with mosses and lichens and although I’m starting to recognise more and more, in most cases they go unidentified. Does that matter? Not at all! Just enjoy this wonderful wildlife through the winter and take some time out to peer at a wall or a gravestone from time to time. You won’t regret it. And if anyone asks what you’re doing, why not invite them to have a look as well?
Look out for more on our fabulous lichens (including much better photos than mine!) in the January issue of Nature’s Home - coming your way soon if you are an RSPB member.
But lichens are so so hard... Bird-watching might need a telescope and a camera, but a set of chemicals?
I like looking, but identifying - I just give up right away.
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