Winter wildlife at Belton
Winter. The trees are bare, the nights have drawn in, and on first impression, it can seem like a barren time of year. But Belton’s park and gardens are still bursting with life if you know where to look, and a walk on the wild side can really lift the spirits.
So, read on for a taster of what you might see, then pull on your boots and let us know what we can add to our list of wonderful winter wildlife here at Belton.
Winter is a great time to get to know your local birdlife. While it might not harbour the beautiful birdsong and cacophonic dawn choruses of springtime, there are plenty of interesting avian winter visitors to be seen. If you’re a fan of the ‘little brown jobs’ that inhabit Belton’s fantastic trees, now is the time to grab your binoculars and get a good view of them before the leaves obscure them again.
This time of year is renowned for spectacular displays of roosting birds – starling murmurations are perhaps the most well-known example (look out for one over Grantham itself) – but plenty of other birds roost en masse too. The rooks that congregate on the East Avenue both look and sound impressive, and you certainly can’t miss the noise they make if you’re walking that way in the gloaming.
As dusk gives way to dark, you may well hear tawny owls calling in the woodlands. Possibly one of the most recognisable bird calls, the classic ‘twit-twoo’ is actually made of up of two tawnies calling to each other; the female call ‘ke-wick’ answered by the male ‘hoo-hoo-oo’. Tawny owls establish and defend their home ranges during the winter months, prior to breeding in the spring. As very territorial birds, the winter is a particularly vocal time of year for them!
With the Towthorpe Ponds in the parkland, and the Tar Lane ponds in the Gardens, Belton is an excellent place to have a look for winter wildfowl visiting the UK. Ducks, swans and geese are familiar winter visitors to the ponds and are often in their brightest plumage at this time of year.
Keep an eye out for Old Nog (the grey Heron) braced against the water rushing through the sluice gate near the entrance to the estate, keeping still as a statue waiting for a passing snack. You may also spot the flash of blue and hi-pitched call that heralds the appearance of a kingfisher skimming low along the river or over the still waters of the ponds.
Flocks of Redwing and Fieldfares can be seen feeding in hedgerows and across the parkland throughout the winter, and redpolls, bramblings and siskins have all been recorded at Belton in recent years.
Life on the river
Although highly elusive and difficult to see, both otter and water vole are active all year round in the stretch of the River Witham that runs through the Belton Estate. Whilst you might not be lucky enough to get a glimpse of the animals themselves, you are more likely to see their tracks and signs in the wintertime. The wetter conditions and thinner vegetative cover mean that paw prints and impressions are more easily cast in the soft mud on the banks, and more easily seen without the flora getting in the way.
Water vole ‘latrines’ of tic-tac sized green droppings are another good sign of a healthy and active population. Neither animal hibernates, but the water voles do spend more time in their burrows during the colder months, making them more difficult to spot than usual.
Fungi are present in the ground and on and around trees throughout the year, but their fruiting bodies are at their best in the autumn. Depending on the weather conditions, impressive displays of colourful grassland fungi, such as waxcaps and corals, can be seen in the grasslands of the park well into the winter months too. And many fungi associated with trees and woodland will continue to fruit even once the weather has turned cold.
With so many veteran trees around the estate and several hundred acres of grassland to explore, there’ll always be some interesting fungi to spot, even if the weather has driven most of the other wildlife undercover.
Belton’s famous herd of fallow deer attract many visitors during the rutting season (October and November), but then once the rut is over and the herd enters a more relaxed and sociable time of the year, winter can offer the opportunity of closer views of these magnificent animals than at many other times of year.
Once the year’s fawns are relatively independent, and the testosterone-fuelled battles of the autumn have died down, small groups of bucks, or mixed groups of bucks and does, can be seen grazing in front of the house, along the South Avenue, or below Old Wood. A circuit of our 3-mile Parkland Walk takes in many of the likely areas to see the deer, and indeed much of the other wildlife at Belton too.