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February

We're getting towards the end of winter. Although we'll certainly still experience some cold snaps, we can also start to get a hint that spring is on the way.

Our native wildlife is even more in tune with this than we are. Here's five things happening in the forest this month, as nature dares to think that winter might be coming to an end.

1. Great Spotted Woodpeckers Drum on Trees

Woodpeckers are shy by nature and that even goes for the most common of the three species native to the UK, the great spotted woodpecker. You’ll most likely hear them before you see them, the distinctive noise of their beak drumming on a tree echoes through the forest. When you finally spot their location, they’ll no doubt manoeuvre around the oppositive side of the trunk or fly off as soon as they’re aware of your presence.

Great spotted woodpeckers drum their beaks for a few reasons, but at this time of year it’s largely to do with marking their territory. The instantly recognisable sound tells other’s within earshot that they’ve laid claim to that section of the forest.

2. Starling Murmurations

Starlings live in the UK all year around, but in the winter their numbers are boosted by seasonal settlers from northern Europe. Over the winter starlings gather together in large number, often tens of thousands, then before finding a spot for the night perform spectacular arial displays called murmurations.

Amazingly no one is quite sure why starlings do this. It could be the that flying in a large group provides safety from predators, but that doesn’t fully explain the propensity for these birds to behave like this at a specific time of day.

February is often the last month to enjoy this winter spectacle before the migrating birds return to the north and the resident starlings dissipate.

3. Ladybirds Emerge

Our native insects have very clever lifecycles and behaviours to cope with the cold winter months. Some such as bees have lifecycles that end in the autumn, with just the queen overwintering, often underground. Others take a slightly different approach and spend the winter as infant pupae, ready to morph into adults in the spring.

Ladybirds go for a safety in numbers tactic, gathering together in large groups, often under tree bark. They enter a dormant state like many other insects, but whereas you’ll need to wait until March to spot many insects emerging from their winter seclusion, ladybirds are amongst the first to appear in February. When they do their first priority is food, then looking for a mate.

Ladybird on a tree

4. Keep an eye out for catkins

Whilst a lot of wildlife is still to be convinced it’s time to get going again after adopting winter survival strategies, some trees are already set to start reproducing.

Catkins are long thin formations of tiny flowers that can be spotted hanging from branches of alder and hazel trees, as well as some species of birch. Almost like a net, they lay in wait for pollen carried on the wind. For some trees like alder the bud of the catkins have been there all winter, but it’s only once we reach February that they now grow and ‘flower’ to more than double their previous length.

5. Roe deer feed with their friends

The most common British deer, the roe deer is incredibly shy and nervous. They’re easily identifiable by the large white tuft on their rear, which is often the most common angle to see them as they tend to scarper as soon as they notice you.

Roe deer are solitary animals for a lot of the year, but in winter in particular they will group together to feed. This fact, in combination with the forest being at its most sparse in February, makes it a great month to spot these tranquil mammals.

A couple of tips for spotting them; as soon as you find a roe deer keep as still as possible. They’re not like a t-rex, they can see you, but if you don’t appear as a threat, they may tolerate your presence for a while before disappearing into the thicket.

Try heading out into the woods at dusk armed with a torch. In February that doesn’t need to be the middle of the night as it gets dark shortly after 5pm. Search out quite areas of forest and then cast your torchlight through the trees to see if it picks up the distinctive eye-shine of the deer.

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