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January

Even though it's the coldest month of the year, there's still plenty going on in the forest.


Here are five things happening in the forest in January. We hope they inspire you to get out there and appreciate them for yourself. Just remember to wrap up and take a thermos!

1. Bold Barn Owls

Food becomes scarce for a lot of animals in January, and that includes barn owls. Their typical diet includes small rodents, reptiles, amphibians and insects, all of which become less abundant in the colder months.

Barn owls have another problem, they aren’t that well insulated, and their feathers are soft, which is great for silent flight, but not when it rains. That means they have to eat more to keep warm and become more daring on dry January days.

Head out at dawn or dusk to try and spot these (usually) nocturnal birds as they now hunt during higher light levels when prey is more active. They’ll often hunt from a perch, such as a tree or a post on the edge of a meadow, and as their name suggests, roost in barns or abandoned buildings.

If you’re lucky, you may even spot one punching through snow, talons first to catch a vole located beneath with its incredible sense of hearing.

2. Foxes are looking for a mate

The red fox has to be one of the UK’s most eye-catching creatures, and in winter, they become an even more spectacular sight. They don’t hibernate, so instead, they develop a thick coat to insulate them as they continue searching for food.

Winter is a very important time for the red fox. It’s their breeding season, and January is a great time to spot them. Foliage is as stripped back as it’s going to be, and these bold canines are on the lookout for a mate. Their food has also become scarcer, so they’re often bolder searching for a meal.

A barn owl in winter perched on a fence

3. Look out for squirrels digging up their buried treasure

Grey squirrels are widespread, an invasive species that has driven our native red squirrels to the brink of extinction and are commonly considered a pest. You probably see them all the time and don’t think of them as something special, but entertain us for a moment.

Firstly, they didn’t choose to be introduced to the UK or know the impact they’ve had. Secondly, if you look past their reputation, they’re kind of cute, and finally, they exhibit some fascinating behaviour.

Not only are they incredibly agile, they can put cats to shame with the way that they can vertically ascend a tree, but they also have a super way of surviving the winter.

Having spent autumn gathering and burying fallen nuts and seeds. Now it’s January, you can spot these bushy-tailed critters putting their masterful memory to the test, digging up their buried treasure to keep them going. If it snows where you are, keep an eye out for squirrel diggings, the small holes in the snow and the earth below where they’ve excavated their winter store. A tell-tale sign will be soil and debris strewn across the snow surrounding the hole.

The great news is if you live in the north of England or Scotland, you can spot red squirrels exhibiting the same behaviour.

4. Animal tracks

In January, the forest floor is often wet or covered in snow if you live in the right part of the country. That provides a great opportunity to spot animal tracks, giving you a unique insight into the breadth of creatures that call the forest home.

First thing in the morning is the best time to go searching for animal tracks left by the residents overnight. If your local woods are popular with dog walkers, you might have to get off the beaten track to distinguish wild animal prints.

Fox, badger, roe deer, and ground bird tracks are all possible to find, as well as rarer species such as otter, stoat, and pine martin. If you’re up for even more of an adventure, then try following them. You might stumble across a set or find you’ve followed their trail to their local feeding ground. Please be sensitive to the environment and respectful of their home.

5. Trees enter a dormant state

You wouldn’t think that an awful lot is going on with trees through January, and being fair, you’re right. They’re in a dormant state to ensure their survival, but when you know a bit more about why and how, you can appreciate their winter form in a whole new way.

Trees need leaves packed with chlorophyll to absorb sunlight and produce their food. There’s less sunlight in winter, and if the trees kept their leaves, the water in their cells would freeze, rupture and kill the leaf anyway, meaning they wouldn’t be ready for the following summer.

Instead, all the good stuff that the tree wants to keep is absorbed, turning the leaves yellow, orange and brown, before they fall to the forest floor. The remaining cells in the wooden part of the tree are then packed full of concentrated sugars, shrinking and becoming harder, helping them survive the cold.

Most coniferous trees don’t drop their needles. This is because the needles themselves, which are smaller and waxy, make them much better at retaining water and surviving the cold.

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