Nature is nothing if not impatient. For people January and February are the depths of winter, the coldest months. For plants and animals they are more like pre-spring, increasing daylight being as important to them as temperatures. This year the very mild weather leading up to New Year meant that many flowers were blooming over Christmas, and there was early bud burst on some shrubs and trees.
This was brought home to me one frosty but sunny morning recently when, in the space of a couple of hours in the Sandwell Valley, I saw more signs of spring from the birds. First there was a young song thrush, sitting high in a tree, hesitantly developing his repertoire of mellifluous phrases.
Secondly I heard the yaffle of a green woodpecker, no doubt busy sorting out its breeding territory and keeping watch for a mate. The yaffle is unmistakable, sounding like a high-pitched mocking laugh. The bird announces its presence in this way rather than drumming as do other woodpeckers. Green woodpeckers are amongst a small group of birds, including robins and wrens, which feed mainly on insects, in their case ants, but do not migrate for the winter. Their strong bill and long tongue presumably mean that they can excavate ants’ nests all year round.
Not far away grey herons, in their heronry a mere four miles from Birmingham city centre, were busy renovating their untidy nests. Some will lay eggs in February. Herons are big birds and their chicks need as much time as possible to grow and develop before next winter starts. Beneath these ungainly birds, which never look comfortable in trees, the mixed flock of ducks included brightly coloured mallards, another early breeder. Ducks and drakes will have paired up during November and December, and it will only be a few weeks before the first flotillas of fluffy yellow ducklings will be paddling along behind their mothers - trying to avoid being eaten by those herons!
When spring does arrive of course all birds are much more active. To mark this, the Wildlife Trust for Birmingham and the Black Country organises International Dawn Chorus day. So, in the spirit of impatient nature, here is an early notice that this year it is on the third of May.