So here we are, the final month of the year. Everyone’s probably focused on Christmas by now but surely there’s time to squeeze in a spot of wildlife watching too – maybe even during a relaxing Boxing Day walk?
What to see in Scotland this month XII
Have you ever noticed the fascinating adaptations many animals have developed in order to survive and thrive in the places they live? From forests and floodplains, to deserts, oceans and the peaks of mountains, birds and other wildlife around the world have managed to inhabit them all. And to do this successfully, many have evolved or changed their behaviour in some way - over time.
The species that we have here in Scotland are no different. And these ‘changes’ are probably most apparent during the winter months. For wildlife, survival is the top priority and that’s the main reason behind the modifications that we can see.
Take the ptarmigan for example – a plump bird belonging to the grouse family which is by no means large, but extremely hardy. Ptarmigans live in arguably one of our harshest habitats, the mountains of the Highlands. Here, they can be found at altitudes of up to 4,000 feet! And they’re perfectly adapted to it.
Ptarmigans are usually a lichen-grey colour, but during the colder months of the year their feathers change so they are completely white; they are actually the only British bird to grow completely white winter plumage. To protect them from the cold they have feathered legs and thickly feathered feet which act like little snowshoes for walking expertly on even the softest snow.
Ptarmigans also have a brilliant ability in that they can dig out little hollows in the snow, which they sit and hunker down in – this helps to keep them snug and protect them from howling winds.
Not all wildlife opts to deal with cold conditions in this way though. Hedgehogs, bats, queen bumblebees and butterflies all hibernate during the Scottish winter, while plenty of birds migrate to warmer climes. Look out for pink-footed geese and whooper swans at Loch Leven and Loch of Strathbeg or long-tailed ducks around the east coast – these birds come to Scotland from places like Iceland and Greenland and stay here until spring.
December is also a good time to look out for wildlife in your very own garden or local green space. When the weather turns chilly and frosty at this time of year, it can be more difficult for birds to find food in the wild. So any seed or scraps that you are able to put out for them become that bit more valuable. Look out for sparrows, blackbirds, finches, blue tits and of course a festive robin or two!
Shortages of natural food are also known to bring some more unusual wildlife into our lives while they search for their next meal. Bramblings, siskins and blackcaps are becoming more regular visitors to feeding stations and people have previously reported kingfishers, American robins, little buntings and a black throated thrush turning up in their gardens too.
But if it’s a spectacle you’re after then a starling murmuration is one you definitely don’t want to miss out on.
Thousands upon thousands of these birds gather together just before dusk, wheeling, swirling and swooping in sync across the sky as part of one giant feathered cloud. The result is mesmerising. It’s like they’re all taking part in one precisely choreographed dance routine. Starlings join forces like this before going on to select their evening roost to stay warm, exchange information on good feeding grounds and because there is safety in numbers. One of the best places in the country to watch them is at Gretna Green in Dumfries and Galloway.
Happy wildlife watching this month everyone, and have a brilliant Christmas and New Year when the time comes!
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