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Put your cursor on any photo for a caption, or click here for more February bird photos. For the latest observations see @SWC_Nature.

18 February 2018 Just for one day yesterday it seemed as if spring was around the corner. The sun shone. It was even a bit warm. Chaffinches sang. I saw a butterfly.

One should not get too carried away by such a day at this time of year, of course. It often feels a bit milder in mid February and then late February and early March go on to have weather as cold as any in the winter. It is usually not till late March or even early April that you can say "Now it is spring". But yesterday we had a preview.

To hear the chaffinches was a tonic. Having not heard any up to that point, suddenly there seemed to be lots of them singing. This was near Balcombe in Sussex and it has to be said that today, in my locality, none were singing at all. But this is chaffinch time and soon they will be in voice everywhere.

I also heard greater spotted woodpeckers tapping several times and at dusk there was a positive cacophony of song thrushes, punctuated by the occasional great tit and dunnock. Plus robins, of course. It was the first time this year that I have had a sensation of layers of birdsong stretching off into the distance, And faintly, in the far distance, I am almost sure I heard a blackbird. Unfortunately this was at Balcombe railway station and a torrent of recorded announcements then interrupted. Once they had finished I couldn't hear the blackbird and started to wonder if I had imagined it.

I didn't imagine the butterfly, but it flew past me without stopping. I had the impression I saw the wing bars of a small tortoiseshell, though I wouldn't be able to swear to it in court. It is not impossible that one might see any of the hibernating butterflies - commas, brimstones, peacocks - on a mild February day, but in the past I have only ever seen red admirals at this time. To have definitely identified a small tortoiseshell would have been something.

The good thing about flowers is they sit still to be identified. Shortly before the butterfly I saw my first lesser celandine of the year. Then today, in my locality, there were some more. Also yesterday the occasional daffodil and one or two primroses. All of these flowers come out in force during March, so it is not unusual to see some advanced guards.

Talking of flowers, the sun this morning prompted the wild crocuses in my local park to open their petals. When they do this, look carefully and you might well see a bee or two. Today I saw a bumble bee (presumably a queen come out of hibernation: or was it one of the solitary bee species?) and a honeybee. It seems extraordinary that either could be flying so early in the year, but then if there were nothing to pollinate them, why would crocuses flower now?

In terms of tree flowers, the next milestone, as I mentioned last time, will be alder catkins. They look like this when open and are very easy to identify, partly because the only other catkins out now are the more yellowy hazel ones (photo), and partly because alder is the only tree with cones as well as catkins. They tend to grow near water. One or two alders near me are already flowering in this way  but others are not: but now is their time.

In my local park I also inspected the cherry plum trees. These are the street cherry tree that produce lovely pink blossom about this time of year (photo), and there is also a wild version with white flowers. My local ones are still at the bud stage and I would say early March is more typical from them to flower than February, especially if the weather remains cold. But I will be keeping an eye on them from now on.



11 February 2018 The weather seems determined to be wintry this week. That is spring for you - or perhaps I should say "pre-spring" - two steps forward, one and a half steps back. Nevertheless there is a slow creeping advance in the tide of nature and unless we get a horrible cold March like the one we had in 2013, it should keep advancing in the next few weeks.

For example, this week is St Valentine's Day. Rather surprisingly, the first known association of this date with romantic love is found in Chaucer - and he was referring to birds. In his Parlement of Foules (1382) he says it is the day "when every bird comes to choose his mate".

What is fascinating is that this is still true. If you had to pick a time when the mating season for British birds really gets into gear in southern England, it would be about now. It is charming to known that this was equally the case in the fourteenth century.

Birds that start to sing about this time include the greenfinch, which has a very characteristic nasal "squeezh". I definitely heard (and saw) one in Sussex this week and hope to soon hear others. Greenfinches have suffered declines in recent years due to some disease or other and it would be sad if they disappeared from our spring soundscape.

I have also seen a goldfinch perched high on a tree singing. I find goldfinches a confusing species, in that the song of a mating male and the twittering of a flock feeding sound remarkably similar. Nevertheless when you see one individual of such a relentlessly communal species singing all by itself, it does rather suggest some amorous intentions.

Often at this time of year one would also be celebrating the return to voice of song thrushes, but I have been hearing them for several weeks now. Mistle thrushes, after an early burst in midwinter, seem to have fallen silent - or perhaps there are just so few of them now that one rarely hears them.

More probably, it is all a matter of being in the right place. Just when I was thinking this week that I never seem to hear greater spotted woodpeckers drumming anymore, I was in a wood in North London where one was hammering away all day. I also heard one definite - though brief - outburst from a green woodpecker: they don't drum, but make a hysterical laughing sound called a yaffle.

Two other birds to also be on the look (or listen) out for are the chaffinch and blackbird. I am surprised I have not heard a chaffinch yet as they often start quite early in the month. Blackbirds are more tentative, with experienced males not starting to sing till March. But newbies sometimes start up early, typically from a perch atop of a house at dusk. It is always a very exciting moment when one hears the first blackbird song, as once it starts it is the constant soundtrack throughout spring and early summer.

On the flower front, notice some early daffodils starting - not unusual for February, though March is their month really. Snowdrops are at their best, as are crocuses, opening up on sunny days.

Alder catkins will soon join hazel catkins. I have seen them once so far, but in a suburban setting, which does not really count. Slowly such signs will increase as we move towards March. Eventually spring wins.



 4 February 2018 The most exciting thing about this week, as far as I am concerned, is that is no longer January. The winter is far from over, of course, but the end is at least in sight. And the very faint signs of spring you can now see will pick up noticeably in the next four weeks.

Most noticeable is birdsong. I have no new songsters to report this week, but those that are singing are getting a little more systematic. Dunnocks in particular seem to be singing everywhere in my area, while the seesawing of great tits has become rather more sustained. I am also daily hearing song thrushes that are not just practising their riffs but giving a full-throated performance. In general there is the sense that all three birds are getting serious about mating.

When the sun was shining last Tuesday I also saw a bumble bee out feeding on some winter heliotrope (a garden flower that has escaped onto village verges - photo - and is quite an invasive pest in places). She was a big fat queen bumble bee who had emerged from her winter hole to do a bit of feeding. One can in theory see this on any mild day in winter, but this one somehow seemed a harbinger of happier days to come.

As mentioned last week, snowdrops are the main February flower, but let us not forget crocuses too. Both are usually seen in gardens and parks (or churchyards in the case of snowdrops), but they just about qualify as wild flowers too. You do see some snowdrops growing in woods (probably having seeded from some local garden) and very very occasionally the true wild crocus appears too.

But wild crocuses can grow in parks too. I distinguish here between the garishly coloured cultivated varieties (the yellow or purple ones) and the delicate pink "natural" one. In my little local park there is a patch of the latter in an unfrequented corner and they are tended by no one and propagate and spread of their own accord (the patch gets slowly bigger each year). So to me they are wild even though they are in a managed habitat. On milder days their flowers open wide (photo) and rather surprisingly bees and other insects appear to pollinate them.

As February goes on you will also start to see other wild flowers - very few in quantity, but a wider variety of species. At the tiny level on grassy verges and in odd suburban corners you can already see some chickweed (photo) and the tiny blue flowers of field speedwell (photo). In the same category as chickweed - ie a tiny white flower - is hairy bittercress (photo): I have not seen any yet, but it often appears about now. The occasional early primrose is not impossible - I saw one last weekend - and I also saw red deadnettle this week, albeit in a suburban setting.

On trees you now see a lot of hazel catkins - yellow "lambs' tails", which will be followed sometime during the month by the catkins of alder, which currently look short and pink-ish but will open out to longer more yellow flowers as they bloom. Alder is a very easy tree to identify even if you are not expert in these matters because it is the only tree with both cones and catkins.

My green shoot of the week are those of bluebell. They look like small fat blades of grass (photo) when they appear on woodland floors. If you see them, note their location, so you can come back and see them in flower, which will be in late April and early May.

The same goes for any arable fields you come across covered with cabbage like plants like this. This is oilseed rape and in April these fields will be ablaze with yellow. It is a rotation crop (alternating with wheat), so you never know where it will be planted from year to year. If you like flowering oilseed (and I know some people hate it) it is worth recording where you see these fields for reference later in the year.



4 February 2018 The most exciting thing about this week, as far as I am concerned, is that is no longer January. The winter is far from over, of course, but the end is at least in sight. And the very faint signs of spring you can now see will pick up noticeably in the next four weeks.

Most noticeable is birdsong. I have no new songsters to report this week, but those that are singing are getting a little more systematic. Dunnocks in particular seem to be singing everywhere in my area, while the seesawing of great tits has become rather more sustained. I am also daily hearing song thrushes that are not just practising their riffs but giving a full-throated performance. In general there is the sense that all three birds are getting serious about mating.

When the sun was shining last Tuesday I also saw a bumble bee out feeding on some winter heliotrope (a garden flower that has escaped onto village verges - photo - and is quite an invasive pest in places). She was a big fat queen bumble bee who had emerged from her winter hole to do a bit of feeding. One can in theory see this on any mild day in winter, but this one somehow seemed a harbinger of happier days to come.

As mentioned last week, snowdrops are the main February flower, but let us not forget crocuses too. Both are usually seen in gardens and parks (or churchyards in the case of snowdrops), but they just about qualify as wild flowers too. You do see some snowdrops growing in woods (probably having seeded from some local garden) and very very occasionally the true wild crocus appears too.

But wild crocuses can grow in parks too. I distinguish here between the garishly coloured cultivated varieties (the yellow or purple ones) and the delicate pink "natural" one. In my little local park there is a patch of the latter in an unfrequented corner and they are tended by no one and propagate and spread of their own accord (the patch gets slowly bigger each year). So to me they are wild even though they are in a managed habitat. On milder days their flowers open wide (photo) and rather surprisingly bees and other insects appear to pollinate them.

As February goes on you will also start to see other wild flowers - very few in quantity, but a wider variety of species. At the tiny level on grassy verges and in odd suburban corners you can already see some chickweed (photo) and the tiny blue flowers of field speedwell (photo). In the same category as chickweed - ie a tiny white flower - is hairy bittercress (photo): I have not seen any yet, but it often appears about now. The occasional early primrose is not impossible - I saw one last weekend - and I also saw red deadnettle this week, albeit in a suburban setting.

On trees you now see a lot of hazel catkins - yellow "lambs' tails", which will be followed sometime during the month by the catkins of alder, which currently look short and pink-ish but will open out to longer more yellow flowers as they bloom. Alder is a very easy tree to identify even if you are not expert in these matters because it is the only tree with both cones and catkins.

My green shoot of the week are those of bluebell. They look like small fat blades of grass (photo) when they appear on woodland floors. If you see them, note their location, so you can come back and see them in flower, which will be in late April and early May.

The same goes for any arable fields you come across covered with cabbage like plants like this. This is oilseed rape and in April these fields will be ablaze with yellow. It is a rotation crop (alternating with wheat), so you never know where it will be planted from year to year. If you like flowering oilseed (and I know some people hate it) it is worth recording where you see these fields for reference later in the year.










13 comments:

Em said...

Somewhere on this site you have written that it is perhaps sterile to spend time identifying birds, plants etc but I don't think so. I think it helps enjoy the rich diversity of what is there and appreciate the differences and variety in nature.

Peter C said...

I am glad you think so, and definitely agree!

ramblinros said...

Thank you for interesting nature blog
Found a new-to-me spring flower on Saturday
Spring Beauty - Claytonia perfoliata syn Montia perfoliata -
the stem is surrounded by a curious cup-shaped leaf
Was walking on the North Downs Way eastwards immediately after the Watts Gallery - very sandy -
up a slight rise and then the plant was on both sides of the descending path
for about the next 100m, and then no more
https://www.flickr.com/photos/ramblinros/13649168915/

Peter C said...

Nice observation, ramblinros! I have seen this plant once or twice and I do mention it in April Verge and Field Flowers (http://nature-and-weather.walkingclub.org.uk/search/label/April-verge)….

"Also in the wierd category is spring beauty, a plant of sandy soils which has tiny white flowers in the middle of large round leaves."

…….but it is a rather rare thing to see, so I am glad to hear of your sighting.

PeteB said...

On polling day 7 May I went for a long tramp over the South Downs starting in Lewes and eventually finishing in Eastbourne. At the start of my walk (Book 2 walk 25c Lewes to Glynde) I had just left the golf club car park and started on the path past a water trough where a herd of cattle were drinking and grazing when to my surprise I saw what I am sure was a single red? deer hind grazing with the cattle (it was too large to be a roe or fallow deer). The animal was frightened by my presence and seemed to try to hide among the cattle! I had my camera phone but did not want to start unsettling the cattle and I had a long day ahead so pressed on with my walk. The only deer I have seen before on the South Downs were fallow deer in the flat water meadows. I have never heard of red or sika deer on the South Downs and a web search has revealed nothing. Quite a sighting !

Peter C said...

A very interesting sighting, I agree. Of course, historically red deer were present throughout England but I had always understood that now they only live in places such as Richmond Park. The only other place I have once thought I saw one was in the Lake District. Perhaps you should report this sighting to some relevant association or other. I am not quite sure which. (If it was a butterfly or bird or flower it would be easier to think of suggestions!)

PeteB said...

Did walk 3.20 Sevenoaks to Wesaterham today after bailing out of it early on Sunday because of violent storm. Bluebells already showing well at Ide Hill and should be at their best in 2-3 weeks which seems a bit earlier than usual? Fields still pretty waterlogged in the morning but after lunch at the Cock Inn terrain and woodland trails much drier.

PeteB said...

Did walk 3.20 Sevenoaks to Wesaterham today after bailing out of it early on Sunday because of violent storm. Bluebells already showing well at Ide Hill and should be at their best in 2-3 weeks which seems a bit earlier than usual? Fields still pretty waterlogged in the morning but after lunch at the Cock Inn terrain and woodland trails much drier.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to learn that Yellowhammers have been detected on the walks this summer (considering their numbers have declined rapidly). I saw some on the Pewsey/Avebury walk recently. They were in a quiet country lane, flanked by tall *all important* hedgerows. I haven't seen this species for years. E.

Peter C said...

I have read that their numbers are declining, but I have to say I hear them quite a lot in the south east. They like hedgerows on farmland but are also heard up on the downs. A lovely song so I hope they don't decline further.

Sandy said...

Fantastic blog - I was particularly interested in the 19 September one about late-surviving flowers. I started noting down flowers still out in Nov/Dec a few years ago - e.g. 24 spotted on 3-4/12/2014 and 27 on 19-20/12/2015. It was astonishingly mild then of course. I don't seem to have any notes from last year but maybe I wasn't out walking at the right time. Look forward to comparing notes later in the year.

Peter C said...

Thanks for your kind comments. Glad you find it interesting.

December 2015 was indeed the weird mild one when all sorts of early spring flowers and even blossom started to come out. But some flowers in early December are not unusual. Before writing the blog I should perhaps have checked my own December Flowers page which lists several. See http://nature-and-weather.walkingclub.org.uk/2011/12/november-hedgerow-and-flowers.html

Peter C said...

I don’t know why the link in the last post says November in its url. But go to the main blue button menu above the Nature Blog and click December and you will find the page I mean.

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