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February

tests many wild creatures as food becomes increasingly difficult to find and and they have to survive cold nights. Yet many are already preparing to breed and some already have young to look after – badger cubs are born from mid-January onwards. Frogs are starting to spawn and toads are heading for their breeding ponds.

Mild winter days bring out brimstone, small tortoiseshell and peacock butterflies from their winter hiding places. Early season bumblebees like (obviously!) the early bumblebee are waking from hibernation and roaming around looking for food – nectar and pollen – and for a good spot to establish a nest.

Even in mid-winter the first flowers are starting to show. Golden saxifrage and butchers broom flower in deep shade in woods, where bluebell leaves are just beginning to appear. Alder and hazel catkins are providing early pollen for the few insects that are about.

Coral spot fungus gives a splash of colour on dead twigs in the woods, as do lichen flowers. There are about 1,700 species in Britain, many confusingly similar, so identification is a real challenge. The Natural History Museum provides an interactive key to those that grow on twigs: click here to visit.

In the woods woodpeckers are drumming to mark their territories. The great spotted can be distinguished from the much rarer lesser spotted by its greater size and the red patch under its tail. Its drumming call is also shorter and lower pitched. On lakes and reservoirs great crested grebes are displaying as they pair up and prepare to raise their young.

Visit coastal reserves like Tollesbury Wick, Cudmore Grove, Marsh Farm or Blue House Farm to see large wintering flocks of brent geese or wigeon on the grazing marsh. Visit Abberton Reservoir or Hanningfield Reservoir to see large numbers of wintering teal and many other ducks, grebes and gulls.



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