As the last month of winter arrives… The nation is fed up with the wet and windy weather, longing for the hot summer days… Nature is in full preparation mode for spring!
Small tortoiseshell butterflies hibernate in houses and sheds over winter, with their wings tightly furled showing just their plain brown under-wing, they are well camouflaged. However, on the rare days when the sun is shining, you may notice them stirring and fluttering against the window panes.
The best habitats to visit this month are lakes and rivers. As Valentines Day grows nearer, we aren’t the only species getting ‘loved up’.
Great crested grebes can be seen performing their lengthy but beautiful courtship dance. The great crested grebe is one of this country’s conservation success stories. They were driven close to extinction during the Victorian era as their feathers were a sought after commodity. Their numbers are now steadily increasing with good populations across the country.
Herons are also performing their courtship dance with the males bending their necks back so their beaks point to the sky. They nest in groups called heronries; these are in the treetops and provide a peculiar sight to see forty or so of these giant birds vying for space in ancient trees. Some of the heronries have been in place since medieval times.
Kingfishers return to their territories on the rivers, and it is a great time to see them as the lack of foliage on the plants works as an advantage. Take your camera and you might be lucky enough to snap a photo of one emerging from the water, victorious with a fish in its beak.
On sunny days the first bumblebees will emerge. The majority of the bees seen now will be large queen bees; they hibernate over winter and are now in search of a place to start their new family. When they first emerge they are sluggish and can’t fly so keep an eye out on the ground for any struggling bees and give them a helping hand, while being careful not to get stung of course.
Ladybirds will also venture out, sunning themselves during milder spells. Take notice of the different colouration’s and the number of spots, there are 46 types of ladybird found in Britain, though only 26 of these looks like the stereotypical ladybird. Have a go at identifying the ones in your garden, the BBC nature website has a handy guide to ladybirds.
In the woodlands, bluebell leaves are pushing through the soil, and Sparrowhawks and buzzards begin to establish territories by soaring overhead on clear days. Keep an eye out for birds of prey perched on lamp posts, they have cleverly learnt to utilise these man-made structures as lookout posts, before plunging into the neighbouring habitat in close pursuit of prey.