Our top 10 wildlife sightings for February
Drumming great spotted woodpeckers
Listen out for great spotted woodpeckers drumming on trees to announce their presence in the woods. Did you know their sharp bill is powered by strong neck muscles and their brain is protected from all the drumming by a special type of bone that absorbs the stress.
Male great spotted woodpeckers have red feathers at the nape of their necks while females have no red on their heads at all.
Listen out for the melodious song of the woodlark, a cousin of the skylark.
Woodlarks are one of the earliest birds in the year to start singing in Britain, and their song is said by some to be one of the finest you’ll hear.
Listen for them singing away on lowland heathland, such as Greenham Common.
Grey herons and heronries
Grey herons build their large nests in trees by rivers or lakes. You’ll often see many nests in the same tree and these groups of nests are known as heronries.
Look out for male herons putting on a courtship dance to attract a female. The male will stretch his long neck upwards and then lower it over his back with the bill pointing upwards.
Great crested grebes
Great crested grebes also have an elaborate courtship dance. Watch as the males and females mirror each other on the water, diving down and rising up in perfect unison.
Great crested grebes were once very endangered in the UK. Historically they were hunted for their soft feathers which were used a substitute for fur and elaborate head feathers which were used to decorate women’s hats.
Frogs breed before toads and you may see great jelly masses of early frog spawn in ponds in February. If you have a pond in your garden, don’t introduce frog spawn from elsewhere, wait until frogs find your pond and create their own.
Toads breed later in the spring than frogs but this month you should see them start to return to their breeding areas. Some toads have to cross roads to reach the ponds. You can help them cross safely by becoming a toad patroller.
Once toads do breed look for long strands of toad spawn in ponds compared with the large masses of spawn that frogs produce.
Hazel produces female flowers and male catkins at this time of year. The tiny flowers are bright pink. Take a close look and be amazed by this minute flower waiting to catch pollen released by the catkins.
Hazel catkins hang like little (lamb’s!) tails from bare branches, wafting pollen in the breeze.
Hazel isn’t the only plant that produces catkins but is one of the earliest. Other trees that produce catkins include willow species and alder.
Sweet violet (Viola odorata) is the first of the violets of the year to bloom. This is the only violet which has a fragrance so take a sniff!
Later in spring look for common dog-violet in woods and hedge-banks. Hairy violet grows in grassland and scrubby areas on lime and chalk.
Did you know dog-violets got their name because they don’t have any scent and were thought to be only fit for dogs!
The sight of primroses in woodland, on hedgebanks and waysides is a sure sign that spring is on its way. Did you know the name derives from the Latin prima rosa meaning first rose of the year.