I’M busy painting a new collection for a major new exhibition at my gallery in Thixendale on wildlife in winter. Although this season is tough for birds and animals, it’s a good time to go out and spot them in the wild. I get some of my best sightings when the weather is cold.

On frosty days, the lighting is beautifully soft. As soon as it snows I grab a camera and go out to see what I can find. I love the way a blanket of snow transforms the landscape.

But even a few days of heavy rainfall is good news for wildlife watching. Owls, for instance, are unable to hunt in heavy rain. This means that as soon as a downpour is over these birds of prey will go out hunting, triggering my cue to pick up a camera and head out to look for them.

Even species, like barn owls, which normally only hunt in the early mornings or evenings will get hungry after a few days of rain and go out in the middle of the day.

Over the years, I’ve learned some interesting things about how animals behave in harsh conditions, and each time my observations have inspired new paintings.

One of the most fascinating was when I followed a group of more than 50 hares across a field of snow and saw them boxing.

I knew that hares box all year round, and not just in spring, but this was the first time I had seen so many. This experience was so thrilling it inspired a whole collection of paintings of hares in snow.

Foxes are easier to spot in a winter white-out, although getting up close is difficult because their hearing is so acute they can pick up the crunch of your footsteps from quite a distance.

But they are fascinating to watch. I once spotted a fox hunting on a canal bank thickly encrusted with snow. It crept forward slowly, listening intently with its ears erect. Then, once it had pinpointed its prey under the crust of snow, it leaped high into the air and pounced.

Short eared owls also dive deep into snow when hunting. It is incredible how they can hear the scuffle of their prey despite the height they fly at.

A bird I always associate with snow, and in particular with Christmas time, is the waxwing.

This beautifully coloured bird is named for the tiny droplet of red at the tip of its wings, which looks just like a blob of red wax. Like so many migrant birds to be seen at this time of year, waxwings flock to our shores to escape even harsher winters in their native Scandinavia. They don’t always arrive, but it really makes my Christmas to see them here.

One of the most incredible experiences of watching wildlife in winter was the day I saw a woodcock here in Thxiendale. Woodcock are essentially nocturnal and the stripes of russet and fawn on their plumage means they are perfectly camouflaged against the forest floor, where they spend their time foraging for worms under the leaf litter.

But when it snows heavily they will venture out to look for food. I saw this one probing the mud with its long beak in a soggy patch of melted snow where a stream trickled into a pond.

Of course in recent years our winters have been relatively mild and we haven’t had prolonged heavy falls of snow. But that doesn’t mean that temperatures don’t drop to punishing levels during the season. Animals and birds have to work harder than ever to find food to survive at this time.

I think of this unique wildlife watching season as beginning now, just as the temperatures drop. And what better sound to herald the season than the noisy toot of a tawny owl.

Tawny owls are particularly noisy at this time as they fight over territories. You can hear them hooting loudly just after dusk.

My exhibition opens on November 4 to 26. Alongside a display of all my latest paintings of wildlife in winter there will be walks to see migrating birds, falconry, and a talk and slideshow about how I translate my wildlife experiences into paintings.