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Birds and blooms are back as winter begins to fade away

PETE HUGHES of Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) gives his top 10 wild highlights to catch.

LISTEN out for great spotted woodpeckers this month as they drum on trees to announce their presence.

Great spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos major). Picture: Mark Hamblin
Great spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos major). Picture: Mark Hamblin

Did you know their sharp bill is powered by strong neck muscles and their brain is protected from the drumming by a special type of bone that absorbs stress?

You may be lucky enough to have great spotted woodpeckers visiting your bird feeders if you put out peanuts, or look out for them at our Bowdown Woods reserve near Newbury.

Grey herons build their nests in trees by rivers or lakes.

You’ll often see many nests in the same tree and these are known as heronries.

Males put 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.

You can see herons, including little egrets, cattle egrets, great white egrets and bitterns, at our Calvert Jubilee nature reserve near Bicester or Weston Turville Reservoir in Bucks.

Great crested grebes also have an elaborate courtship dance.

If you’re lucky enough to live close to a pond or lake with great crested grebes, watch as the males and females mirror each other on the water, diving down and rising up in perfect unison.

Great crested grebes (Podiceps cristatus) performing the 'weed dance' courtship ritual. Picture: Andrew Parkinson/ 2020Vision
Great crested grebes (Podiceps cristatus) performing the 'weed dance' courtship ritual. Picture: Andrew Parkinson/ 2020Vision

A great place to spot them is our Hosehill Lake reserve near Reading.

Frogs breed before toads and you may see great jelly masses of early frog spawn in ponds in February if the temperature rises enough.

It may look like a huge amount but very little will survive to become adult frogs.

Instead much of it will provide food for garden birds and dragonfly larvae.

Our Greenham Common nature reserve near Newbury is a great place to see all kinds of amphibians.

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.

Hazel trees produce 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.

The catkins hang like little (lambs!) tails from bare branches, wafting pollen in the breeze.

Goat willow, or pussy willow, is a small willow tree found in ditches, reedbeds and wet woodland, and on urban waste ground.

It is one of the UK’s most common willows and is known for the fluffy, silver-grey, male catkins – ‘pussy willows’ – that appear in January and turn bright yellow in March.

Look for a sunny splash of colour from lesser celandines.

They have shiny, heart-shaped leaves and flower in early spring.

You might spot them in damp woodland or along stream banks and ditches.

They’re an important source of food for early insects emerging after winter.

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 if you see one.

Look out for violets at our Dancersend reserve in Buckinghamshire, Bowdown Woods near Newbury and Rushbeds Wood near Bicester.

The tiny, brown wood mouse is one of our commonest rodents and is very likely to be found in the garden – but it is nocturnal.

Similar to the house mouse, it has larger ears and eyes relative to its size.

Wood mice gather food stores of berries and seeds in the autumn, which they keep in underground burrows or sometimes in old birds’ nests over winter.

February is the time of year when they start to breed again, so you are more likely to spot them out and about.

Find out more about all these species and great local nature reserves where you can find them at bbowt.org.uk

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