Primroses flowering in the February snow
As you might expect as we approached the end of winter, the weather was cold and overcast in the South Shropshire Hills at the beginning of February. It was very windy here at times too and yet more snow was forecast for the coming days. However, there was a little very welcome sunshine too, and in spite of the very cold conditions this week a song thrush began to sing his beautiful repetitive song every morning from the woodland next to my garden. Later in the week a mistle thrush was also heard singing from the copse of trees on the other side of our tiny valley, and along with the sweet chatter of the huge local flock of linnets, there seemed to be a lot of bird activity all around us. Fewer birds were feeding in the garden this week however, although the siskins were a daily, noisy presence. On the 4th of the month the eerie sound of a fox screaming was heard in the garden at dusk, and a tawny owl was hooting most nights. The female sparrowhawk that has been a regular visitor this winter returned on the 4th and sat on top of the bird feeder pole for some time before flying off, swift and low, over the adjacent fields. The single marsh tit continued to feed in the garden every day, especially from a small tray on the garden table.
The second week of the month continued with cold, snowy weather and at times temperatures were sub-zero even at mid-day. There were still only a few siskins feeding in the garden which was slightly disappointing after the large numbers we had here last winter, but the males were singing beautifully in the hazel outside the back door and also in the big holly tree at the end of the garden. On the 9th I noticed that there were daffodil buds showing in the border in the long garden and a small clump of primroses was in flower in the snow in the shelter of one of the hedges. As temperatures continued to be below zero the big pond was, not surprisingly, completely frozen and on the 9th a grey heron visited for the first time in ages, walking about on the frozen surface. The weather remained very cold this week and the fallow field next to the garden was absolutely full of birds including fieldfares, redwings, linnets and starlings, all in huge numbers, with a few song thrushes for good measure. Our hedges had been recently cut, something we do every January after all berries have gone. This keeps them very thick and healthy and means they provide excellent nesting places for several bird species here including yellowhammers. The heron returned on the 14th and again spent some time just standing on the frozen surface of the pond. The local linnet flock visited the garden daily, often alighting in our large ash tree or in the field maple at the end of the long garden. A rough count of around seventy birds was made. At the very end of the week the weather warmed a little and a bedraggled buzzard was seen in the garden sitting on the barn owl post, drying itself in the weak sunshine. The weather forecast for the week ahead was, thankfully, for milder conditions.
The third week of February began with the promised milder weather but it was dull and overcast. There were no large numbers of birds in the garden or on the hedges now, just the usual species in usual numbers. There was no sign of redpolls here yet – one of my favourite birds – although plenty were being recorded around Shropshire, and there was also no sign of frogspawn. Later in the week a single frog was seen in the marshy pond during a slight tidy up of the edges to make access easier, so fingers were crossed for our usual large quantities of frogspawn in this warm, shallow little pond hat the frogs seem to prefer. All the usual early spring bird species were with now including a small flock of siskins, one of my favourite winter visitors, and the males were singing beautifully and looking particularly bright in the sunshine! A single male mallard appeared on the pond this week and continued to come to roost overnight. There was rain and sleet for a couple of days but the sunny spells in between the cooler more wintery weather meant there was a hint of spring in the air. Plenty of bird species continued to sing around the garden in this slightly warmer weather especially robins, dunnocks and great tits, plus a single song thrush performed beautifully from our little copse of trees every morning.
The last week of the month had very variable weather with sun, showers, heavy rain and wind but when the sun shone it really felt like spring! On the 22nd the first frog spawn appeared in the marshy pond with no sign of any in the other ponds. A large amount had been laid and the churring of the males was loud and very noticeable in the morning and I went to check for spawn on what seemed like a suitable morning. The weather continued to be variable but obviously the increase in temperature was enough to get the frogs performing! All the usual birds were still using the garden, especially the siskins whose numbers were increasing daily, plus the local flock of linnets visited every day, perching either in the ask tree or on top of the long hedge. The song thrush continued to sing from the copse and two thrushes were seen feeding on the cut grass in the big meadow and on the lawn in the long borders later in the week, giving me hope that they may nest in the garden again this year. On the morning of the 25th there were seven wild mallard on the pond but they didn’t stay for long. The garden became progressively noisier towards the end of the week with siskins, goldfinches, song thrushes, dunnocks, great tits and robins singing from our trees and hedges and a single blackbird was also heard. Male chaffinches also began their explosive song and without doubt, there was more than a hint of spring was in the air.