Now is a great time of year to plant native trees and shrubs and put up bird boxes before spring really gets going. I saw a Blue Tit checking out a box in our garden yesterday, so hurry! The pace of nature’s calendar at this time of year always stutters, stops or sprints depending on changing weather conditions though.
A really cold snap will send us back into the depths of winter, while sunny days awaken slumbering animals and send tree buds bursting. Going out for a walk to look for early signs of spring is an excellent way to connect with wildlife and the changing seasons. Head to your local woods to see if you can find a swathe of Snowdrops, the bright yellow stars of Lesser Celandine or a Hazel tree adorned with hanging catkins. You might see queen Bumblebees searching on the ground for small mammal burrows to build a nest in or feeding on early-spring flowering plants, their furry coats allowing them to get going long before many other pollinators.
Look out for reptiles as they become more active after a cold winter torpor. Reptiles such as ‘common’ viviparous lizards and slow-worms will seek sunlit areas to raise their body temperature. They can often be seen basking and are reluctant to vanish if you move slowly. On the South Downs you may even be lucky enough to see an adder basking. If you happen to pass by a pond, now is the time to catch all the hustle and bustle of breeding amphibians, with wildlife ponds at times overflowing with purring Common Frogs, barking Common Toads and dancing Newts. We have reports of frog spawn in Southwick already! And wherever you are, listen for birds beginning to sing in earnest.
Now is the perfect time of year to start to learn to identify bird species from their calls and songs. The lack of foliage on the trees makes spotting the singer far easier and the variety of songs to be heard tends to build slowly as we approach high spring, as different species have different cues as to when it is time to begin singing to establish territories and attract mates. It’s best to start with the birds that you hear all the time in your local parks or gardens. There are lots of good resources online to help you along the way. The RSPB have a page dedicated to this and go to Xeno-canto’s website for a free definitive library of bird songs.
Best of all, befriend a good birder, they’ll tell you what you’ve heard before you even ask, and everything you missed …