Month on the Emmbrook
What to look for if you are out and about in
December 21st is the Midwinter Solstice and our shortest hours of daylight. Plants are in their dormant stage and there are very few signs of growth at this time. It also marks the official arrival of winter. This month is, of course, dominated by the run up to Christmas. It is now, perhaps more than any other time that we bring plants from the countryside into our home. Evergreens such as Holly, with its rosy berries (only on the females plants) are used in wreaths, along with Ivy and fir cones too. The custom of decorating homes with evergreen branches dates back to pre-Christian times. Holly,Iivy and Mistletoe were thought to have magical powers. A European tradition states that whoever brings the first Holly into the house at Christmas will rule the house for the following year.
Amongst the most likely birds to be seen in the gardens, woodlands and fields alonside the Emm are flocks of roaming Tits and Fnches (such as Chaffinch and Brambling). These are often joined by the occasional Tree creeper and Nuthatch. With every year that passes there are more reports of Blackcaps and even Chiffchaffs over wintering; you may be lucky to see them amongst these flocks. Rooks and Crows seem to be everywhere once out of town, and Jays and Magpies are hard to miss also.
At night Tawny owls may be heard staking out territory, with both the male and the female birds creating the classic owl 'tu-wit tu-who'.
Love them or hate them, huge numbers of woodpigeons will be on the move within December. Individual flocks can number in the tens of thousands. The movement is generally from the north to the south-west and is most obvious on clear cold days with light winds. We aren't really sure where these birds come from or where they are going to but it would seem likely that they are moving from northern Europe and are making their way to France and possibly southern Europe. When this migration is underway it is a very impressive sight and one that a lot of people overlook.
Very few insects can be found flying around during December. The exception may be clouds of male Gnats dancing in the hope of attracting a passing female. Look into your shed or attic now and you may come across adult Small Tortoiseshell or Peacock butterflies waiting out the winter.
Some Slugs and Snails still brave the conditions. Their slimy trails differ in that snails trails are not continuous, unlike Slugs.
All of our local amphibian and reptile species (i.e. common toad slow-worm; common newt, smooth newt , great crested newt and grass snake) are all hidden away under ground until spring, and sometimes together in mixed groups. Only the common Frog chooses a different approach by hiding at the bottom of a pond.
Foxes will be making their intentions loud and clear this month as their mating season ensues. Vixens (females) wail and scream, and dogs (males) bark to find mates across the landscape. They also become easier to spot as they search and flirt. There are more urban Foxes now than ever, so chances of seeing and indeed hearing their displays are no longer confined to fields and hedgerows. Their cubs will be born next January / February.
Plants & Trees
Mistletoe is actually one of our most easily recognised but least understood plant. In Britain we have just one species of Mistletoe Viscum album and the latin name refers to the berries which are white (album) and contain a very sticky, viscous fluid (Viscum).