Blackwater Valley Countryside

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February in the Valley

February is one of those awkward month. Officially it is still winter, so the weather can be cold and bitter, with frost, ice and snow or it can be very mild and sunny. What can we expect this year?

Snowdrop by Ian White The milder the winter the earlier the plants will appear, one example being the Snowdrop.
We exerienced a run of very mild winters which resulted in Snowdrops coming into flower earlier and earlier because of the successive mild winters, instead of their more traditional flowering time which is normally around early February.

Thatís good news for our spring flowers. Icy conditions and overnight frosts are an essential part of nature as many seeds and plants need sub-zero temperatures to help their germination. One possible legacy of global warming is warmer milder winter and fewer frosts, which could affect seed germination of some of our most popular spring flowers such as Primroses, Cowslips and Violets...

SiskinMake the most of the leafless trees, which greatly aids birdspotting. The trees and shrubs found along the Valley are essential to many birds. Siskin
 and Redpoll can often be seen in flocks feeding on the Birch
 and Alder trees that form thickets around many of the lakes. Why not join our guided Why not join our guided
bird walk to see the wildfowl around Frimley Hatches on Thursday 10th.

Another birds worth looking for is the Goldcrest our smallest British bird, which weighs between 5-6 grams (thatís five birds to the ounce!). Winter is a very difficult time for these birds as they need to feed all day to lay down enough fat reserves to combat the long and potentially freezing night ahead. Goldcrests favour conifers, but at this time of year can be found in deciduous woodland and scrub throughout the Valley.

The Long-tailed Tit is another species worth looking out for at this time of year. In summer it is very quiet and secretive, but in winter it forms noisy flocks frequently mixing with other species such as Great Tit and Blue Tit. These flocks move continuously from tree to tree through a wood or along a hedgerow. Individual birds pause momentarily to feed before moving on. The noise comes from the constant calls of the birds to each other that keep the flock together, preventing any one bird from being left out.

Have you noticed any strange activity by Wood Pigeons flapping around ivy-clad trees and wondered what they are doing? Well itís all because ivy berries are one of the few fruits now available to eat and the birds are trying to get to them. The problem is that Wood Pigeons - being rather large and heavy Ė find it quite difficult to get a firm foothold as the Ivy doesnít offer much support, so they spend a great deal of their time flapping around looking for a secure spot on which to perch before they can feast on the berries.

Hazel catkins

Hazel catkins 

  
Hiding places


Over the winter, hiding
under stones and crevices,
 in hollow trees and stems, behind loose bark and under roots are all kinds of minibeasts and creeply crawlies. Theyíve been
trying to avoid predators
and the worst of the winter weather. This month - if it starts to warm up - many
will be emerging from their hiding places. So what might you see and where should you be looking to see them?

Buff-tailed Bumblebees

Last autumn young females
will have burrowed into soft earth, often under tree roots and could be emerging now
to seek out a suitable place to establish a new colony.

Common Wasp
 
The queen will have hibernated in crevices,
hollow trees or in dense ivy thickets and like Bumblebees will be emerging to seek
out a suitable new home.

Earwigs

Females often spend their winter under loose bark on rotting logs tending eggs
that will hatch in spring.

Smooth Woodlouse
 

These gather in large numbers in damp crevices under bark and stones.

Did you know...
The flaps on the legs of the Woodlice act as gills and must stay damp?