January opens the year dominated by two factors: weather and waterfowl. Visitors are recommended to watch the latter from the Hayden and Kingfisher Hides in order to avoid the worst of the former! Water levels tend to be high, with water lying on the surface providing additional habitat for wetland birds. This is a time when all visitors should have wellies (or webbed feet!).
The Heronry Lakes regularly hold a range of ducks and geese, including around 300 coots, 100 shovelers, 100 gadwall and smaller numbers of teal. As the month progresses, small numbers of scarcer ducks, such as smew and goosanders, may appear from other lakes, depending on the temperatures and ice conditions. At dusk, the day is closed with the spectacle of roosting birds: up to 300 cormorants (though many fewer than the 1000+ birds of the mid 1990s), up to 5,000 rooks, jackdaws, carrion crows and up to 200 stock doves.
In recent years, doubtless encouraged by mild winter weather, both grey herons and cormorants have been displaying and sitting on nests at their Heronry Lake nest sites during the month – can spring be far away?
Although a few goldeneyes can be seen from Kingfisher Hide, there are generally larger concentrations on Island Pit, viewed from the southeast corner, along the Ouse Valley Way. Rarer species noted in January include black-necked grebe, bittern and red crested pochard.
After the autumn rains and a few frosts, ground vegetation is generally sparse and a casual glance can enable you to see the ‘runs’ made by mammals – mostly rabbits, but also fox, muntjac deer and badger (which forage on the reserve). In the trees, flocks of tits feed on the seedheads which have not already been eaten or blown away; flocks of siskins, redpolls and goldfinches forage among the alders along the riverside and to the west of Sailing Lake. Goldfinches also search out any remaining teasels, while passage winter thrushes (and perhaps a waxwing?) feed on any hawthorn, rose and buckthorn berries that have survived thus far.
Look out, too, for the rosette of dark leaves on the willows, caused by gall gnats which laid their eggs here last spring.