The recent snow and ice has melted revealing a drab field layer of razed and decaying undergrowth. Despite the same seasonal hardships some neighbouring plants are now teetering on the brim of spring pushing their new infant green shoots upwards towards the growing hours of daylight. Indeed, this year looking higher up the vertical vegetation structure into the understorey and shrub layer of our hedgerows and woodlands there is a particular abundance of hazel flowers. These catkins which formed unnoticed during the autumn and winter are the male flowers and are commonly known as lamb’s tails (see photo attached). Hazel is wind pollinated and does not rely on insects to do this. Their pollen will drift in the air until resting on a female flower. These flowers are minute and easily overlooked and apart from a tiny red vase shaped tuft look just like another small bud along the bare narrow stem (see photo attached). Large amounts of pollen are produced ensuring the hazel nuts of autumn are formed providing a feast for squirrels and small mammals such as wood mice. Also, numerous larva of various moths and other insects feed on the foliage making the hazel a most valuable wildlife plant.
Male flowers on hazel at Wrenthorpe Park
Female flowers on hazel at Wrenthorpe Park
Snowdrops and winter aconites have also defied the winter and are now in full flower (see attached photos). They are a treasured double act, well naturalised and established in our urban greenspaces helping to cheer us up before the top of the bill flowers of spring arrive.
Winter aconites at Alverthorpe
Snowdrops at Wrenthorpe Alverthorpe meadows
The days of grey skies, ice packed ponds and blankets of snow, together with storm Christoph during this January have been enough to make us all shiver and seek refuge. However, this coming weekend 29th to 31st January there is an opportunity to brighten our spirits particularly during these difficult times by taking part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch. It is the world’s largest garden wildlife survey and it has been helping us to understand the changes occurring to the wildlife on our own doorstep especially for our more common garden birds since it started in 1979.
It only takes one hour, anyone can take part and best of all it can all be done in the comfort of our own homes or local green spaces while respecting current Covid-19 advice. Last year the UK top ten were as follows 1. house sparrow 2. starling 3. blue tit 4. woodpigeon 5. Blackbird 6. goldfinch 7. great tit 8. robin 9. long-tailed tit 10 magpie. However, at this time of year when natural food is scarce our bird tables can attract surprise visitors. Indeed, every bird counts to the survey and adds to our appreciation and enjoyment of wildlife. I am hopeful the robin photographed at home on 14 January2021 will visit again to keep its place in the top ten. More details about the Big Garden Birdwatch 2021 are available at the following link www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/birdwatch/
Robin searching for food. 14 January 2021