Wildlife To See – February
Snowdrops are among the first plants to flower and other early spring flowers include the 8 petals of lesser celendine, which is a member of the butterfly family. The snowdrops with its dropping white heads are one of the most well known plants in Britain. However, they were not always called snowdrops! Our ancestors called them February fairmaids, snow piercers and dingle-dangles! Snowdrops have hardened tips so that they can push upwards through the snow.
The large flowering spikes of white butterbur (an Introduced species from Europe) can be seen poking up through the ground, often on riverbanks, well before their large leaves appear.
The pokers of bulrush, also called reedmace, burst open, producing fluffy-haired seeds that are dispersed on the wind. If they land on dry ground the hairs spread out so that they can be blown away in the hope of reaching still water. If the seeds land on water the hairs remain spread for a short time but then fold back, which releases the seed, which will immediately sink.
Also look out for primroses in flower.
The drumming of woodpeckers on dead trees may be heard in February. Listen out for the loud ‘drumming’ of the male great spotted woodpeckers as they hammer out their claim on their wooded territories. They are much easier to see at this time of year because there are no leaves on the trees.
Male moorhens become increasingly aggressive defending their territory against rival males. Their warning signs include tail-flicking, feather-fluffing and swimming with outstretched necks close to the water. If these warning signals do not work fights may break out and the birds may use their feet to attack each other in a flurry of water spray. Birds can sometimes be seriously injured.
Herons nest in groups that are called heronries which can contain between 4 and 20 large nests in tree tops and are reused year after year. Three to five eggs are laid from February onwards. The birds can be very noisy and are fascinating to watch
Badgers don’t actually hibernate and they are active throughout the winter. However, when it is very cold or wet they will stay underground. There are advantages to badger watching in February as they will emerge from their setts much earlier in the day and you may be able to spot them between 6 and 8pm. It is the mating season so there will be a lot of territorial activity including a lot of bickering, purring and growling going on. The females will be giving birth in their underground homes, which are called setts.
Amphibians And Reptiles:
February marks the return of the majority of frogs to our ponds in town and country. The males arrive first, many of them having spent the winter at the bottom of the pond. When the females arrive the males wrap their arms around the females & hang on, having to fight off other males in order to be in a position to fertilise the eggs as they are laid. Frogs lay up to 2000 eggs but only a small number will make it to maturity. The tadpoles are eaten by animals such as diving beetles and birds, including blackbirds!
Trees And Shrubs:
Alder catkins dangle from the tree branches and may give the trees a purple haze or sheen. The buds, which are on short stalks, are also purple.
The male hazel catkins lengthen and droop down to 5 cm long and are pale yellow. The female hazel flowers appear on the same branches as the catkins but are tiny red tufts growing out of what look like swollen buds.