Winter wonderland

If you asked me which is my favourite season, I would tell you that each has its own special charms. I love long summer days, and the smell of rain hitting the parched ground. I adore autumn, with its frosted grass and leaves crunching deliciously underfoot. And I always smile when I spot the first buds of spring beginning to unfurl.

But winter for me is a different story. I enjoy the run up to Christmas and the bright, chilly mornings that November and December can bring. But once the celebrations are over, for me this season offers nothing but cold and damp. Nothing but rain and sleet and endless dark mornings.

Luckily for me though, I have access to Fauna & Flora International’s incredible library of photographs, amassed over many years by a variety of talented photographers and field staff. So I thought it only fair to share with others a few of these beautiful images, to remind the pessimists amongst us that winter isn’t all bad.

I hope this virtual “winter wonderland” brings you much cheer. And I’d love to hear your thoughts on what this season means to you (especially if you’re from the southern hemisphere, and looking forward to plenty of sunny summer days ahead)…

A quiet spot. Credit: Radu Mot.

This peaceful winter scene was captured by Radu Mot in the Zarand Landscape Corridor of Transylvania in Romania. Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and partners are working to protect this landscape, which still retains an element of wilderness through which large carnivores (such as the brown bear) can roam, as the paw prints below attest.

You might look over your shoulder pretty sharply if you came across these large footprints (made by a brown bear passing through the Zarand Landscape Corridor). Credit: George Sirbu.

Grey wolf howling. Credit: Gareth Goldthorpe/FFI.

It’s business as usual for this grey wolf. It is protected from the cold by its thick fur, which has an outer layer of coarse hair coupled with a soft undercoat.

Icy blue. Credit: Juan Pablo Moreiras/FFI.

I love the blue hue of these icebergs, which were photographed close to the Upsala glacier in Los Glaciares National Park, Patagonia.

Wintery forest. Credit: Radu Mot.

This gorgeous shot of frosted trees against a blue sky, again taken in the Zarand Landscape Corridor, reminds us that winter isn’t always gloomy!

An Amur tiger (also known as the Siberian tiger) bounds through the snow. Credit: WCS/Sikhote-Alin Biosphere Zapovedni.

This incredible photograph of an Amur tiger was taken by a team of scientists funded by the Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP). The team is working with children and school teachers to improve knowledge and attitudes towards these tigers in Terney County, Primorski Kray in Russia – an area thought to contain as many as a quarter of the world’s remaining individuals. This photograph really makes me smile, as it reminds me of my family dog enjoying a similar romp through the snow.

Two snow leopards at play. Credit: Kulbhushansingh Suryawanshi.

The two dark specks in the middle of this picture are snow leopards. The vastness of the snowy landscape highlights just how tough it must be to find and catch enough prey to keep them going. The photograph was taken by Kulbhushansingh Suryawanshi who works for another CLP-funded project, researching conflict between humans and snow leopards in the Spiti Valley, high up in the Himalayan mountains of north-east India.

If you thought your office was cold, think again! Credit: Kulbhushansingh Suryawanshi.

It’s slim pickings too for yaks on the Tibetan Plateau. FFI is working with communities to help find a way to sustainably manage livestock grazing on these fragile high-altitude grasslands.

Yaks on the Tibetan Plateau. Credit: Stephen Browne/FFI.

Some animals, however, have other ideas. Take the wood thrush, for instance. Travelling mainly at night, these birds migrate an average distance of 2,200 km between their breeding and wintering grounds.

The wood thrush heads south for the winter. Credit: Salvadora Morales/FFI.

“Like runners training for a marathon, they change their diet in preparation for their long journey, switching from protein-rich insects (which constitute the bulk of the food consumed while raising young) to energy-rich fruits, especially berries,” says Salvadora Morales, FFI’s Project Coordinator on Ometepe Island, Nicaragua, one of the key wintering sites for this species.

“The carbohydrates and lipids in the fruit readily convert to fat, providing the fuel necessary for migration. As such, fruiting plants are a critical resource for many migrating birds.”