With the BBC starting its ‘Winter watch’ programme this week, the National Trust for Jersey are encouraging people to brave the cold weather and to get out and about to discover what wildlife can be seen around Jersey’s countryside this time of year.
Although a dormant time for many species, others call Jersey home over these coldest months as their breeding grounds are even more inhospitable at this time of year. Some species are actually easier to spot in the winter due to being more active and having less vegetation to hide behind.
Here’s a quick guide to some key species to look out for and where you might see them……………
The Eurasian Bitten
Over the last few years, one or two of these secretive birds have spent the winter in the reed bed of St. Ouen’s pond, one of which, we know had flown from Holland. Looking like a slightly squatter brown Heron and spending it’s time hunting small fish and amphibians wading amongst the reeds, the bittern will only let itself be spotted by either a short flight across the wetland or by a booming noise the male will use to attract a female in the event of a compatible pair both being present.
One Bittern has been regularly spotted in front oft the scrape bird hide along with other migrating waders and waterfowl such as: Lapwings, Snipe, Teal, Shovellers, Curlews, Plovers and a variety of Geese.
Park at the car park opposite the Watersplash car park and follow the signs.
Every year large numbers of Brent Geese descend on Jersey from their summer breeding grounds in the arctic and congregate on the south, east and St Ouen’s bays.
Two separate subspecies can be spotted in Jersey, the Dark-bellied and the Pale-bellied. The Dark-bellied, comes form the central and western coasts of Siberia, whereas the Pale-bellied hales from Franz Josef Land, Svalbard, Greenland and north eastern Canada.
They feed on aquatic vegetation and will be seen at low tide in St. Aubin’s bay, Grouville bay and will graze grass in fields as they do at St Ouen’s bay.
Although often thought to hibernate, Red Squirrels in Jersey will stay active all year round, apart from in the event of an extreme drop in temperature.
After spending the autumn collecting seeds and nuts, squirrels will be retrieving these caches of valuable food at this time of year when there is a lack of any fresh available food.
This combined with the fact that there is less vegetative growth during the winter, makes it an opportune time to walk through the woods to spot them.
Hot spots include: The railway walk, St Peter’s valley woodlands and St Catherine’s woods.
Coastal and farmland birds
Due to a decline in habitat in recent years, some much loved and common birds to Jersey such as Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Dunnock and Linnet have become much scarcer.
Together with the States of Jersey and Durrell the Trust has been working hard to restore degraded habitats by actively planting and restoring hedges, clearing bracken to make room for more wildlife friendly shrubs and grasses and by ensuring field crops are rotated and cover crops are planted to provide much needed food for these birds instead of an endless sea of plastic over the winter.
These ‘bird crop’ planted fields and hedges along the north coast footpath between Sorel Point and Devil’s Hole are currently great for spotting large groups of Finches and other small birds and a walk around the surrounding Mourier valley may also be rewarded by a sighting of a resident Marsh Harrier, sparrow hawk or Peregrine Falcon who, in turn, will be attracted by the smaller birds.
The Trust’s Senior Ranger Jon Parkes commented: “The chance of seeing something that’s spent such a lot of effort to fly here from the arctic or something as rarely seen as a Bittern, can be rewarding enough to make venturing out into the cold worthwhile”.