As we come into February, the darkest days of winter are now behind us. For one thing, the days start to get noticeably lighter, but it's also the time when nature starts to wake from its hibernation.
This does mean that it's your last chance to see some winter species before they are crowded out in the spring. Others can only be found here during the winter months, before setting off to foreign shores for spring and summer. Below, we've rounded up a few of our favourites for you to tick off your spotter's list before the end of February.
While robins are traditionally associated with Christmastime, these popular birds are a common sight throughout the year. They are more prominent during winter simply because so many other species fly off to warmer climes.
They are surprisingly short-lived, with most robins only living a year or so. As a result, they are particularly territorial during wintertime, and when they find somewhere with a source of food, they will defend it aggressively.
The words "warm", "winter", and "Britain" don't exactly go together like rhubarb and custard. Believe it or not, though, there is one species of birds which does occasionally visit these shores to spend the season in more favourable climes than their normal habitat- the waxwing. These small, starling-sized birds are normally found around Scandinavia, where they mostly feed on rowan berries. These are normally plentiful, but in "irruption years" when the population of waxwings spike, there aren't enough berries to go around. When this happens, a large chunk of the population will fly south and west in search of food- including the UK.
While they are quite small, waxwings are easily recognisable by their distinctive plumage. They are also a great example of why binoculars are a must for any birdwatcher. From a distance, waxwings appear fairly dull in colour. Look at them through binoculars, though, and you'll see a whole different story, with splashes of red, yellow and white.
Great crested grebes
About the same size as a common duck, great crested grebes are easily recognisable by their distinctive plumage on their heads. Rather fittingly for the month that sees Valentines Day, February is also the month where grebes will court. You'll have be lucky to see their courting dance, but it's well worth a trip to your nearest lake for a chance of glimpsing it.
This glorious dance begins when a male and female grebe come across each other. They will both raise their heads, flare up their throat feathers, and spread their wings flat. Then, still facing each other, they will bob their heads up and down until one of them backs off- before suddenly turning to face its partner. Both birds will then dive down to pick up weeds from the lake bed, and then rear up to offer this gift to their prospective partner.
Another species which is found in Britain all year round, the merlin is our smallest native bird of prey. They are slightly more common during the winter as our native population is joined by breeding birds from Iceland. Their wingspan is somewhat smaller than other falcons, meaning they don't glide as much. Instead, they flap their wings rapidly with only occasional glides- behaviour which makes them a little easier for amateur birders to identify at a distance.
In wintertime, Merlins are more commonly found around coastal areas. However, they can be found almost anywhere in England and Wales- although as a protected species, they are a fairly rare sight. Still, it's worth getting out there with your binoculars for a chance of spotting one, before they retreat back to upland areas come spring.
This small species of thrush can be found across almost the whole of Britain during winter months, as they flock here from eastern and northern Europe in search of food. They are a particularly sociable species, and see out the season in groups. Sometimes these can be around a dozen in size, but it's not uncommon for them to flock together in groups of two hundred or more.
As their name suggests, fieldfares prefer large, open countryside, where there will be ample food for the whole flock. They're especially partial to earthworms, so any field where they settle is sure to have ample supply. They have a distinctive call, which sounds rather like chuckling; coupled with that large flock size, they should be fairly easy for even an amateur birder to find and identify.