Discover the Dee

DeeWatch January 2020

A very Happy New Year from the DeeWatch team! We’re pleased to welcome in 2020 as the Year of Coasts and Waters, a celebration of Scotland’s vast array of lochs, waterways, islands and coastlines.  From the Cairngorm Mountains to the sea at Aberdeen Harbour, the majestic River Dee links the land with the oceans. And what better way to walk off any Christmas over-indulgences than with a wintery wander in the catchment – from the Muir of Dinnet Nature Reserve to Glen Tanar, and from Scolty to Countesswells, we are spoilt for choice in Deeside.

And so to our January edition of DeeWatch, a month-by-month guide to nature-spotting across our diverse and beautiful catchment. Brought to you by the rangers who take care of Deeside’s nature reserves, our DeeWatch diary includes sightings from the field as well as suggestions on what to look out for at any given time of year.

In January…

With beautiful low sun, icicles and tree silhouettes, January is the perfect month for nature photography  - so get out and about on Deeside with your camera! By the end of the month there will be noticeably more daylight, and if the weather stays mild there’ll be signs of the coming Spring. 

Icicles (Sally Wallis)

Look out and listen for:


January is a great time to see bullfinches as they move around in small flocks of six to eight, feeding on seeds. They are easy to spot on the Mar Lodge Estate, feeding on heather seeds and birch buds. At Crathes you can find them feeding on fallen seeds under the acers, and you can get quite close to take photos if you creep up on them. Another bird to watch out for this month is the long tailed tit – they also move around in small flocks and you usually hear them before you see them.

Bullfinch (Sally Wallis) and Long-tailed tit (Sally Wallis)

Blackbirds and song thrushes may be beginning to visit ivy this month - they tend to go for the non-toxic rowan berries first as they perish more quickly, and leave the mildly toxic ivy berries till later in the winter. According to the RSPB, ivy berries contain nearly as many calories as Mars bars, gram for gram! Ivy is also a great spot for birds such as robins or wrens to nest in, and insects to overwinter in.

You may be lucky enough to spot Lesser Redpolls with their red caps and black bib – in previous years they’ve been spotted near Dinnet in January. Jays may be heading back to their buried acorns late this month.

Higher in the catchment, red grouse are forming large groups in the snowy weather, and you can often see them flush when a bird of prey flies over. At night, listen out for both tawny and barn owls – they’re very noisy just now!

Keep an eye on Aberdeenshire Council Ranger Service’s website.

and Facebook page.

as they will be running a few bird-box building sessions at various libraries across the catchment through January and February.

The RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch runs from 25th-27th January. With over half a million people taking part, it’s one of the biggest Citizen Science projects in the UK, and an event that everyone can participate in - you don't need to be an expert. By counting birds in your garden, school playground, local park - anywhere, you’ll be helping to create a far more extensive picture of how birds are faring than experts could ever gather on their own. 

Citizen Science Projects such as this are an important way of collecting large volumes of data, but also great fun - and easy for schools, community groups, families and individuals to contribute to. You can find out more about citizen science projects in Scotland here. 

Butterflies and moths

January is a quiet month moth-wise, but Winter Moths are around and the first Pale Brindled Beauty moths of the year appear (some early ones emerge before the close of the old year). Both species have flightless females (see our December DeeWatch) – and Pale Brindled Beauty females are totally wingless. These species don't feed as adults, relying on stored energy to reproduce in the few short days of their adult life. Chestnuts that overwinter as adults may also fly on mild nights.

Larger animals

With the leaves off the trees and vegetation dying down, January is a good time to spot mammals. Look out for otter tracks on ice at the edges of rivers. Red squirrels have been spotted often at Crathes Castle, where the wildlife hide is the best place to sit and watch them, especially in the early mornings. Built by a variety of volunteers, the hide is on the South side of the Estate and open all year – follow the old East trail to find it.

Red squirrel (Sally Wallis)

In the right conditions, snow-tracking animals is fascinating – see what has been about by identifying prints in the snow, with a little help from the Mammal Mapper app which allows you to map tracks on a ‘survey’:  You may see evidence of badgers and moles  - mole hills standing out in snow, or badger scratchings from where they’ve been looking for worms in the ground, before returning to their setts for days of sleep.

Trees, flowers, fruits and fungi

While the trees are bare, you may see flowering catkins on Hazel trees and bushes. By the end of January the male flowers will be starting to lengthen and grow. Hazels are one of the first to appear, but the female flowers are harder to spot – they look like buds, with tiny red flowers. Look out for the first snowdrops and tips of daffs and bluebells starting to poke through the soil.

Hazel catkins (Sally Wallis)


The winter months are a good time to see hair ice (see December DeeWatch).

Hair ice (Sally Wallis)

On the River

As in December, Dippers are singing this month as they start their spring courtship early. Here’s a great close-up clip of a dipper singing.

So-called because of the almost constant dipping motion they make while patrolling rivers and burns, ‘Dipper' is a relatively recent (18th century) common name for them. 'Water ouzel' is a much older name (at least 16th century) - it used to be grouped in the thrush family and has a white bib like the ring ouzel that is a true thrush. Across Scotland, other names include 'water blackbird', 'water bobbie', 'water cock(ie)', 'water craw', 'water meggie/peggie' & 'water piet/pyot'. An Aberdeenshire name is 'ess cock'. The species is usually found around fast-flowing water that provides good habitat for invertebrates that it feeds on, often hunting completely submerged underwater to search for stonefly, mayfly and caddisfly nymphs, and freshwater shrimps among stones on the riverbed.

Dipper on the icy Dee (Sally Wallis)

What’s on?

The RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch runs from 25th-27th January.