Wildlife diary: Early signs of spring

Even on the cold, grey days of winter, signs of spring can be found. As Trust volunteer and former Head of Conservation, Caroline Steel discovered in her garden

The first lockdown, last March, gave most people the opportunity to feel spring arrive and embark on new projects. In the middle of winter, on dank, dreary days, the feeling of optimism is sometimes hard to muster: but spring is on the way!

Over the last 10 months I’ve got into the habit of observing more closely what’s going on in the garden. I’ll be taking part in the RSPB’s annual Big Garden Birdwatch this weekend, but I’m also noting the birds which visit weekly for the BTO’s Garden Birdwatch, which runs all year. It’s fascinating!

Robin (c) Caroline Steel

Unless you take the time to look, it’s easy to miss some garden visitors and under-estimate how many birds are using the space and at what times of year. There are definitely two robins around at the moment and at least two coal tits feed on black sunflower seeds – but it’s rare to see more than one at a time.

Goldfinches have been around all year, but it wasn’t until the leaves dropped that a nest could be seen in the branches of the laburnum in the front garden: I think it’s a goldfinch nest. They’re still in the area, bathing in the pond and feeding on the rudbeckia seedheads which weren’t cut back in autumn.

Blackcap (c) Caroline Steel

Every now and again, a blackcap appears on the feeder and they’re around more often than I realised.

On very cold days, the usual supply of seeds and fat are supplemented by apples and mealworms. It’s amazing how quickly they’re discovered by the birds! Blackbirds can reach the apples before I reach the back door and a pair of magpies are often the first to find the mealworms.

Spring is definitely in the air. Great tits, robins, dunnocks and collared doves have been calling loudly, getting ready for the breeding season. The dunnocks are flirting madly! Plumage seems brighter. And I’ve had the time to clean out nest boxes properly (and clean feeders more frequently than I used to do).

Snowdrops (c) Caroline Steel

Plants are beginning to show in the garden and in the wild. Snowdrops are coming out and there’s one bedraggled primrose.

Celandine leaves (c) Caroline Steel

I’ve been noticing celandine leaves appearing and it won’t be long now before they flower. Hazel catkins are growing fast, but I haven’t yet seen any female flowers.

Coronavirus has taught me many things and has made me acutely aware of how fortunate I am to have a garden and relatively easy access to a variety of natural green spaces. I’m also acutely aware that many others are not so lucky. But even if you don’t have a garden, there’s wildlife to be seen in any open space, and I’m certainly noticing more than in past years.