Colour and interest abound as dark days begin to lighten

by | 28 January 2024 | Retford, Wildlife

Whilst our weather no longer tends to follow the long-established seasonal patterns, in terms of day length at least, the arrival of February means we’re well on our way to the lighter, longer days of spring.

Pussy Willow, Gee White

Whilst our weather and temperatures are somewhat unpredictable, or some would say topsy-turvey, the increased day length means we can look forward to a range of wildflowers, trees and shrubs adding colour to brighten even the dreariest of days.

Amongst the first to flower are wetland specialists – plants best able to cope with the damp, often waterlogged soils at this time of year. These early stars include willow trees, with their small yellow-grey catkins. All the willow catkins on a particular tree will be either male or females and catkins vary in size and shape across different willow species.

Other wetland plants likely to be adding a splash of colour include marsh marigolds with their large, bright yellow buttercup-like flowers providing a welcome source of early nectar for emerging insects.

If you’re admiring the marsh marigolds by a pond there’s a good chance you’ll spot frogs congregating in search of a mate. Warmer winters of late have resulted in some very early spawning, and there’s every chance you’ll spot some as the month progresses.

Heron, Kevin Gray

Late winter is the best time to appreciate waterbirds in their best breeding plumage. The males, known as drakes, will already be showing off as they try to stand out to potential mates. During the cold, dark days of winter, they will have been using any surplus energy to ensure that their feathers are in the best possible order ahead of the breeding season. In addition to being able to enjoy their bright coloured feathers, many will engage in extravagant courtship displays with gestures such as throwing their heads back to gain attention or making a racket to stand out from the crowd. Great crested grebes, also brightly coloured, are also known for their mating rituals which will continue through to the summer.

Whilst not as colourful, another wetland bird well worth looking out for this month is the grey heron. Whilst usually seen standing motionless at the water’s edge waiting to strike unsuspecting prey with their long sharp beaks, at this time of year we can sometimes get a glimpse of their breeding behaviours. Whilst many species of bird won’t breed until April, grey herons are amongst the first to breed and lay eggs – choosing to nest in groups know as heronries. If you’re lucky enough to have a heronry near you make sure you spend some time looking out for the striking and ungainly chicks – which do a great job of illustrating the evolutionary links between birds and the dinosaurs.

Stay Connected

For details of all our sites across Nottinghamshire, including the huge and spectacular Idle Valley Nature Reserve, as well as walk, talks and other events visit

Main image: Mallards in the snow, Kevin Gray