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SWT: As darkness falls, wildlife can still be heard and seen

Tawny owl
Tawny owl

Now the nights have drawn in and darkness falls within the waking hours of young children, a new experience beckons.

Step outside, close your eyes and listen. Dusk really is a busy time – a settling into slumber for our day time animals and an awakening for the nocturnal ones.

Muntjac, a deer which frequents green spaces in towns as well as country, are most commonly seen at dawn and dusk and occasionally let out an alarmingly loud barking sound. Deer are not alone in favouring this time of day. One evening on Eye Town Moors, a mouse scampered right across our path, a chance encounter made more notable because its path took it straight into the canopy of an upturned umbrella, a rather unconventional mouse trap!

Early winter is a good time to catch a truly spectacular wildlife display at dusk. Known as a ‘murmuration’, large flocks of starlings create a mesmerising sight, wheeling, turning and swooping in unison prior to diving down and disappearing for the night. On our nature reserves, sightings are most often reported at Lackford Lakes near Bury, Trimley Marshes near Felixstowe, Hen Reed Beds near Southwold or Dingle Marshes near Dunwich.

Tawny owls stake out their breeding territories from November onwards and so are most vociferous at this time of year, like the one who seems to have laid claim to my front garden! If you live near a wood or even have a few mature trees nearby you may hear them. If you have rough grassland nearby, look out for barn owls hunting. They are often seen out before darkness in winter, their pale, ghost like figures are unmistakable.

Try turning off the torch light, as your eyes adjust gradually more and more reveals itself. I like to demonstrate this by asking my children to stare at a small source of light such as candle or torch with one eye, the other covered. Then switch out the light and test the night vision of each eye in turn. Quite remarkable.

Finally, don’t be startled by green or red eyes staring back at you through the darkness. Many of our familiar animals such as foxes, cats, rabbits and deer all have eyes which reflect light in order to increase their night vision. The nocturnal world has a seasonality and wildlife calendar, just as our diurnal ones does. As winter gives way to spring a whole new wealth of wildlife encounters await us. For a truly exciting night time’s experience, the SWT badger hide can be booked from May-September.

Nature’s Christmas events

December 21: 10am-1pm Walking, warming and whittling around a fire at Knettishall Heath, near Thetford. Family event. Book on 07717 156601

December 22: 10am-noon Enchanted Forest – magical trail, activities at Bradfield Woods for families. Book on 01449 737996; Christmas Activity afternoon at Lackford Lakes, 3pm, Winter wildlife crafts, games and trails for four-10years. Book on 01284 728706

For more events. visit www.suffolkwildlifetrust.org or call 01473 890089