After the long, dark days of mid-winter, the noticeably longer days of February, our shortest month, bring with them an abundance of natural delights – signalling that spring will soon be with us.
As well as increased light levels stimulating nature, with buds and bulbs bursting into life and animals busy breeding and nesting, the noticeably lighter days provide more opportunities to see and enjoy the wildlife around us. Whilst the coldest weather of the winter is often still ahead of us as February arrives, the wealth of waking wildlife is enough to warm our souls. Whether it’s the first frog spawn of the season or hazel catkins bursting from the branches, each day seems to deliver a new delight.
As each year passes, the bird nesting season seems to start earlier and earlier and many birds, including mistle thrushes, will be singing to mark their territories and seek out mates.
Whilst birds such as mistle thrushes may be seen singing from the tops of tall trees, the ground below starts to come alive. The first colour of the year is brought by bulbs such as snowdrops and woodland flowers such as primroses, keen to flower before the woodland canopy shades them out as the leaves on woodland trees emerge and unfurl.
Whilst not a native species in the purest sense, the bright white flowers of the snowdrop have long been a welcome sign of spring and seeking out drifts of these delicate blooms is a worthy excuse for a late winter visit to a local woodland.
Leafless woodlands and hedgerows also offer the prospect of sightings of woodland creatures such as deer on an early morning or dusk walk and birds such as the striking jay will also be easier to spot amongst the bare branches. Another woodland bird which is easier to spot in winter due to the lack of leaves is the tree-climbing nuthatch; a species that shares some of the peach and blue tones of the Jay, but which is much, much smaller. Whereas the jay might be seen feasting on the last of the acorns buried in autumn, the nuthatch can be seen scurrying up tree trunks and along branches seeking out tiny insects sheltering in crevices in the bark. As its name suggests, the species is also fond of nuts, which it chisels open with its stout beak whilst holding them firm with its claws.
Whilst most birds will be readying themselves for rearing chicks, many mammals will already be busy rearing young at this time of year. Timing the arrival of offspring ahead of the surplus of food delivered by the arrival of spring is a well-honed survival technique and female foxes, vixens, will be searching for suitable dens known as earths and female badgers will be giving birth in their underground setts.
The longer days and prospects of seeing nature burst into life after the long winter are just the motivation need to get out and about visiting local wildlife spots or spending time preparing your garden for the arrival of wildlife in spring. Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust’s website has details of our nature reserves across the county and actions you can take to make your garden more welcoming for wildlife. Our shop also has a great range of products, from nest boxes to wild bird food to give nature a boost at this challenging time of year.
Images main and inset: Frog, Matt Morris; Nuthatch, Mike Vickers