Saturday, 23 February 2013

February; down but not out.

This is the low point in the year on my nature calendar: the trees and bushes look dead, the berries have all gone and last year's growth of nettles and brambles has been chomped by the bunnies and the deer. Nearly all the seed has gone from the two fields of wild bird cover mix that we planted last year and, to cap it all, the paths are a maze of puddles and muddy wallows. It's all going to hell in a hand-cart basically.

Hold on a minute! Did I hear birdsong, or is it a bicycle pump? "Tee-cher, tee-cher, tee-cher". Great tits are singing and so are song thrushes. Great spotted woodpeckers are drumming on hollow branches to attract mates and cormorants are building nests; even laying eggs. But where are the mistle thrushes? They normally sing from Christmas onwards. Have you heard one?

No-one could miss the white glow of snowdrops under the trees around the Heronry Trail but, if you look closer you can see dogs mercury, wild arum and nettles pushing up their first green leaves. There has been a hint of white fluff on the pussy willow for weeks now, but I'm still waiting for the buds to burst properly. Those yellow hazel catkins in the hedge are called "lambs' tails" because they appear when the lambs do, while poplar catkins don't seem to have a country name. They are spectacular, all the same.

All those early flowers, whether on the trees or on the ground, have to be wind pollinated. It will be a while before we see any bees, but midges will hatch as soon as it warms up and the first butterflies to emerge from hibernation could be seen any day now.

I suppose the way you look at February depends on your mental state. If you are pessimistic, it's all doom and gloom, but if you want to cheer yourself up, put on your wellies and have a look around. Ironically, you could do worse than visit your local graveyard for signs of spring.

This week the Friends put on one of their monthly talks in the Visitors' Centre. It was a bitterly cold day but 60 people turned out to hear all about butterflies. I thought I knew all I needed to know about them, but I looked forward to seeing some good photos in the warmth of the cabin. In fact Richard Revels' photos were better than good and I learned a great deal, especially about the parasitic flies and wasps that attack butterflies. Even the wasps that lay their eggs in caterpillars and pupae are in turn parasitised by a fly that is only 2mm long. These parasites kill their hoists and may be the cause of several common species falling into decline. You learn something every day.

On March 15th we have the Friends AGM at the village hall and then another great indoor talk for the public on Wednesday 27th March, 7:30pm. Kingfishers - Up Close and Personal.