Even though this is the coldest, and some think the most miserable, time of the year nature is there to cheer us up. As we move from January into February it stirs from its sleepy winter torpor.
Hazel catkins have been out since December, and now, scaly-stemmed yellow coltsfoot flowers are appearing. They pop up in roadside verges, pavement cracks and odd corners of car parks. Elsewhere the brighter yellow, star-shaped, flowers of lesser celandine reflect the winter sun. Despite its name this is a type of buttercup. Then there is everyone’s favourite, snowdrops, or milk flowers. Despite their daintiness they are in the amaryllis family. Their cousins in the lily and iris families, such as bluebells, crocuses, and daffodils, are even now pushing up their green leaves. Ahead of them are the bright green, lacy leaves of cow parsley. And very soon the first blizzards of blackthorn will be bringing hedgerows everywhere to life.
The first frogspawn is likely to be seen about now. The weather dictates exactly when frogs, toads, and newts, emerge from hibernation and gather to mate. Some frogs spend the winter in the mud at the bottom of ponds, whilst others hibernate on land. Don’t worry if there seems to be ‘too much’ spawn in your garden pond. The spawn and resulting young tadpoles are food for other pond life, and only a very few tadpoles will make it through to adult froghood. It’s important that you do not move spawn from one pond to another, or to canals and lakes. Doing so can spread diseases which might have a devastating effect on other frog populations.
The bird world is waking up too. Rooks, jackdaws and herons are all busy repairing and building new nests, herons being amongst the earliest egg-layers. Blue and great tits, which may be roosting in nest boxes, are starting to think of those boxes as homes for raising families, rather than hotels to pass winter nights in comfort. At dawn and dusk songbirds, such as blackbirds and thrushes, are becoming more vocal, rehearsing their songs and claiming their territories as spring approaches.
Scientists are very interested in exactly when these things start to re-occur, and there are plenty of citizen science projects collecting people’s observations. One of the easiest to become involved with is Natures Calendar, run by the Woodland Trust. Find it at: https://naturescalendar.woodlandtrust.org.uk/