Five Ways to Wellbeing- Take Notice- December

Winter is here. Go out for a walk, breath in the fresh, cold air and look around for nature’s sights to see in December.

Words and pictures from

The English Robin redbreast

This month look out for:

Birds visiting the bird table & hanging feeders
Last spring’s bird nests showing in leafless hedges
Bird flocks in wetlands and estuaries
Redwings, fieldfares and waxwings
Baby seal pups on our coasts

There can be no mistaking that winter is finally upon us in December, as frost grips the countryside and the trees are bare.  It is from now until next spring that the battle for survival is at its most extreme for most animals, as food is scarce and temperatures are low.  There are a number of tactics to get through this lean period.  One is to migrate to a warmer location, another is to stick it out on stored food reserves, and what is still available, whilst another is to sleep it out, i.e. hibernate.  Only dormice,hedgehogs and bats truly hibernate.

Dormice will have started their hibernation in October, in the base of a hedgerow or hazel coppice.  They build a nest like structure to protect them during this period from, not only the weather, but also from predators to which they are extremely vulnerable.  Their body temperature drops in line with the air temperature, but must be kept above freezing for the animal to survive, normally at least 1C.  This dip is so dramatic that their metabolism reaches an ultra slow state, where it is just ticking over.  They live of the fat deposits from their feasting in Autumn.  This reserve has to last them up until their reappearance in March.

Hedgehogs also create hibernacula from leaves, situated in a safe location, and maintain a temperature in the hibernacula of between 0 and 5°C.  This is the optimum for them to hibernate efficiently. Bats are more complex in their requirements and each species seeks out specific conditions.  Bats select caves (such as old mines), tree hollows or buildings.  They like a relatively humid environment, where there is little temperature fluctuation.

During periods where the weather is mild (10+°C), and there is a chance of a meal, bats will break their hibernation to appear in any winter month.  Hedgehogs will do the same, and can be seen before their March ‘awakening’, but less often.

Unfortunately, in spite of these winter strategies, between 30 and 60 percent of bats and hedgehogs do not make it through to spring.

Lobed form of the ivy leaf

Simple form of the ivy leaf

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.  Ivy is unusual in that it has ‘dimorphic’ leaves, i.e. they come in two different forms.  The highly lobed one in the photo below (left) is complimented by the more simple and larger leaves on the flowering stems (shown below right).

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