Late winter wildlife and the first signs of spring

Monday 5th February 2018

© Alan Price

As the cold begins to subside and the days get gradually longer, a few subtle signs of spring are beginning to emerge.

Song thrushes, blue tits and chaffinches are raising their voices, claiming dominion over their territories and singing for the season ahead, while woodpeckers drum alongside them. Swanwick Lakes nature reserve is a lovely, tranquil place to sit and listen to this avian orchestra.

Snowdrops are rearing their heads, braving the cold to assure us there are brighter days ahead, and a number of other wildflowers will follow suit; coltsfoot often makes an appearance by the wayside and in the woodlands, while ‘lords and ladies’ plants begin to spread their leaves and grow. This shade-loving, tuberous perennial is widespread across the country, easily identifiable by its unusual shape (similar to that of the arum lily).

Woodlands are wonderful places to enjoy the last wisps of winter and spot the first signs of spring. Shining, golden carpets of star-like celandine flowers can cover woodland floors as early as January, and wild primroses are often found in woodland clearings. Primroses flower very early in the year, and their name is thought to derive from the Latin for ‘first rose’ (prima rosa).

You may be lucky enough to see evidence of badgers spring cleaning. Badgers tend to stay underground as much as they can during the winter to keep warm, but they often emerge early in the year to get rid of their old bedding and replace it with new – you may see it piled up outside their setts. They do this in preparation for the arrival of their young; many badgers will give birth this month.

February is also a wonderful time to discover some beautiful and unusual species of fungi. Certain types of fungi thrive in the late winter and early spring when surrounding vegetation has died back, and you may be surprised to happen upon some truly remarkable species. Scarlett elf cup is a particularly striking with its bright red colouring and distinctive shape – it was recently spotted at Blashford Lakes nature reserve near Ringwood.

February is a month of transition, full of welcome harbingers of the season to come – experience them first hand and explore your local wild places, delight in new discoveries and be sure to enjoy this special time of year.