If you're stuck for how to keep the kids occupied for the New Year weekend and the rest of the Christmas holiday and also want them out of the house for a bit then look no further.

The Woodland Trust's Nature Detectives site has some great resources for kids and there's a whole section of winter related sheets that you can print out for children to use at this time of year. There are hunt sheetsas well as indoor games and crafty things for them to make.

No excuses for the kids being bored this weekend! Happy New Year!


You might be forgiven for thinking that this female blackbird is a thrush at a glance – albeit a rather dark and drab one. In fact blackbirds are indeed part of the thrush family so the resemblance should not be surprising.

Perhaps more surprising is that the robin is also part of the thrush family, which may very occasionally come in handy in pub quizzes.

It's traditional to review the past year at this point, and have lots of top 50 countdowns. Well, on that basis here is a small selection of articles looking back on 2009's wildlife goings on:



At this time of year in particular, you may see bright yellow Siskin in the tops of trees – I see them in Alder, picking at the seeds in gangs. They are particularly yellow and streaky, so quite different from Greenfinches, which are probably the closest other UK bird.

The picture above shows one at a feeder. It's a shame it wouldn't turn to face the camera properly – but this gives a really good view of the colourful plumage. Note that it's covered in yellow stripes whereas a Greenfinch has just the one big yellow bar along the edge of its wing. Below is a shot of a gang of them in their more natural environment feeding on Alder, though it can be hard to get a good photo as they're often high up and silhouetted against the sky.




Because it's Christmas (nearly) here's a festive image taken just yesterday amidst the thawing snow. This robin probably is quite fat, living as it does on peanuts and fat-balls from a feeder, but I think it's mostly puffed up feathers that give its rotund appearance.

And for the photographers out there, this was taken at ISO 3200, which just goes to show what's possible these days.

Happy Christmas!


One of the nice things about a garden full of fresh snow is the evidence of animal movements left behind. Our back garden was full of pigeon and cat tracks, but what stood out was the larger dog-like prints. I'm not aware of any of the neighbours having dogs so I'm suspecting that these are fox prints.

That's a pretty good detailed picture that I've managed to get above, neatly capturing the whole foot including the claws. However Googling for fox paw prints provides a set of conflicting pictures that leave me confused. The version on this BBC page looks nothing like it, being much more elongated, but the diagram here shows a stubbier fox print with the apparently defining feature (compared to dog prints) being that the outer pads are set back entirely behind the front ones with no overlap. That would appear to suggest mine is indeed a fox, but I'm not convinced.

Maybe it's just a really big cat with claws stuck out? These prints were significantly bigger than others in the garden that I know were made by cats, but cats come in different sizes and the tracks were in a neatly alternating line without separate back and front paw prints. Cats walk like this by putting their rear feet where their front feet were, but I don't know whether that's true of foxes. Maybe even foxes do this in the snow because it's easier than making twice as many holes. I have no idea. Your comments are very welcome!

A nature loving friend sent me a link to this video. I hope it brings a little festive cheer to you too!

The BBC reports on research into why some female spiders eat their male partners after sex. The article is a little confused, so I'll summarise my understanding of it here.

  • The vast majority don't engage in this cannibalistic activity.
  • Those that do can't be doing so for nutritional value since a male spider is surprisingly a rather poor meal compared to their more normal diet. (This bit is the new research.)
  • Therefore those that routinely cannibalise their partner are doing so for reason not yet understood.
  • Plenty of existing hypotheses abound, such as it being a way to reduce competition.
  • This research seems to have simply attempted to knock one off that list of hypotheses.

My mother complained last time I illustrated a spidery story with a tasty close-up so you'll have to follow the link for that.


I said that I'd seen two new visitors to the garden, the first being a redwing (as detailed yesterday) and the second a bullfinch which I'll cover today. 

I'm afraid I didn't get a very good photo of it, for which I apologise, but it's clearly a bullfinch and nothing else. About the only thing you could reasonably confuse it with is a chaffinch, but don't let the RSPB's chaffinch drawing on that page fool you – they're not nearly that red in reality! Even if they were, the very black cap and beak of this example marks it out clearly as a bullfinch. The other shot I got before it flew off wasn't much better sadly.