Signs of spring, some mammals, plants and early moths
So much is going on at the moment and difficult to know where to begin, but here goes.
Swathes of Snowdrops are brightening up our road verges and, while these will all be derived from garden escapes, they are welcome none the less. The earliest planted Daffodils are just beginning to bud and flower and many Red Dead Nettles are already in flower. I do prefer the old name of ‘Red Archangel’ rather than red dead nettle. The tender young leaves of the Wild Garlic are just starting to show and Elder bushes are just coming into leaf.
Early morning and Robins are singing (image 1) along with Blackbirds and Great Tits and a host of small birds marking the start of the dawn chorus. Buzzards and Red Kites are calling as they fly overhead trying to avoid being mobbed by Crows. A few days ago I watched two Red Kites from the garden performing their spectacular areal twisting and diving display. We have three Blue Tits fighting over one of our nest boxes and, just as it is almost too dark to see, tiny Wrens are flying up to communally roost in another of our nest boxes. Starlings are also inspecting nest sites and particularly the hole leading into the eaves of our house (image 2) where they stomp about in hefty boots over our bedroom ceiling. Greenfinches, Goldfinches and Chaffinches as well as Blue Tits and Great Tits are using our bird feeder and feasting on sunflower hearts while Pheasants, Wood Pigeons and Collared Doves take food off the bird table and, a Wren flits about around the pond.
For a week or so we have had a single male Frog in the pond but last night he was accompanied by a female and we hope for fertile spawn soon. The male frog has the pale throat compared to the rich brown throat of the female (image 3).
Hazel bushes have been putting on a magnificent show of long golden-coloured ‘lamb’s tail’ catkins (image 4). These catkins are the male flowers and their pollen is dispersed in the wind. Putting on my specs I can find tiny red female flowers (on the twig in image 4) with their red sticky tendrils protruding from greenish brown scaly buds (image 5). Hazels cannot self-pollinate and so the pollen needs to be captured by the female flowers of another bush. Holly has been in flower up until November and now, new flower buds are starting to appear (image 6).
I took a slow drive along our local lanes between Stroud and East Meon to see what was about. A mixed herd of eight Roe deer with both does and bucks were wandering in line across a field (image 7). While Roe Deer are a native species it seems that our present animals may have arisen from introductions as the native animals were long ago culled almost to extinction. Many of the arable fields held Brown Hares (image 8), always a bit distant for a good photograph, and hopefully (as we approach the end of the month) they will soon start their boxing matches. Two Kestrels were hovering and hunting side by side diving down together on potential prey (unless it was perhaps a territorial display), something I have never seen before but they separated as I got near (image 9). Up on the high chalky lands, Buzzards (image 10) and Red Kites (image 11) were flying together and avoiding the inevitable mobbing by crows. Buzzards have broad fan-like tails and Red Kites have long forked tails and bright white patches on their underwings and of course, their reddish bodies. I was surprised to see a Buzzard dive down onto prey only to be attacked and seen off by a more aggressive Red Kite.
While February is the prime mating time for Badgers and when the boar and sow associate more with each other (image 12), delayed implantation means that any cubs arising will be born in or around February next year.
Moth populations are changing as we pass into the new year and among the commonest moths appearing in the moth trap at the moment are the brilliant Spring Usher (image 13) and the Pale Brindled Beauty (image 14) both of which occur from January through to March but with a population peak in February.