Wildlife Photography in February
We are not out of winter yet, just one more month to go. During this month we can still get harsh frosts, freezing winds and maybe some snow. But on the wildlife and nature front, things are starting to come to life and some colour starting to enter our visual senses again.
The end of January and throughout this month sees the small but perfectly formed snowdrop make its way through the soil in our woodlands, roadsides and in some gardens. They are among the first plants to flower in the new year, their little white heads can be seen bobbing just above the surface gently moving in the winter breeze. Take a look at where to see and photograph snowdrops, to find somewhere near you to visit and get a look at this spectacle. In Scotland every year they have a Snowdrop Festival, where some of the larger houses and estates get together to open their gardens and/or woodlands for members of the public to visit, with some not usually open to the public also taking part, so that you can see the winter white carpets they have.
In the countryside in the fields there is little yet growing, however you may see flocks or finches, crows and pigeons searching for food. Badgers are active throughout the winter, however when it is very cold or wet they are sensible and will stay underground. During February they will appear from their setts earlier in the day than in summer, say around 7-8pm, so although cold it may be a good time to go badger watching. February is their mating season so there will be a lot of territorial activity including bickering, growling etc and underground females will be giving birth. If you're not lucky enough to see one, then to find an active sett look out for signs of Badger movement by finding their old bedding outside the sett as they carry out some general housekeeping in preparation for the arrival of this years newborns.
During February amongst our hedgerows the Hazel tree produces flowers, known as Hazel Catkins. The male flowers are in the form of Catkins, which are pale yellow and grow up to 5cm long. They are also known as 'lamb's tails'. The female flowers appear on the same branches as catkins, but they have tiny red tufts growing out of what looks like swollen buds, they are ready to release their pollen in the wind ready to take advantage of spreading new life further away from themselves. Very little else is moving in the hedgerows. Our road verges though are starting to return to colour from the muddy brown winter foliage with the emergence of green nettles, clumps of cow parsley and goose grass starting to show through.
In woodlands, gardens and public parks you may already be seeing the first signs of snowdrops, crocuses and other bulb plants coming through the surface and for those living further south Daffodils may also be on their way through. Other flowers you may see include wood anemone and primroses. The Primrose is a fairly common wildflower and its yellow flower adds a bit of colour. The arrival of the primrose will also bring with it, at the end of the month, the arrival of the Brimstone Butterfly, as it awakes from hibernation on warmer days. These large, long-lived yellow butterflies favour yellow flowers in the spring, whilst being attracted to purple or mauve plants later in the warmer months. Other butterflies that also start to make an appearance, if they have managed to survive winter hibernation include: the Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Small White, Large White and the Red Admiral.
Some species of Bumblebee will also start to emerge this month and as the spring flowers start to emerge they will be seen in gardens, parks, orchards and meadows.
In gardens, at our feeders, the smaller garden birds will start to grow in numbers as their natural sources of food are still in short supply and gets trapped under the frost, and if you can feed them, do so as they need the extra pounds to help them get through the colder nights, and to build up ready for this years breeding season. You may be lucky enough to get a Siskin visit. Blue Tits are already out looking for new nesting sites. The males of these smaller birds will also be more vocal as they start to mark out their territories ready for the mating and nesting season.
The estuaries are now full of waders feeding on worms and other titbits in the mud, but also ducks, geese and Swans may also be seen. Lapwings can often be seen in large flocks at the coast, as they join the waders for food. Rivers are usually higher this time of year but without the cover of leaves you are more likely to see grey wagtails, dippers and kingfishers going about their daily activities. Also look out for otter footprints in the soggy mud, or in the snow when it is on the ground.
Perhaps our most elegant bird, the Grey Heron, starts to get amorous this month. They nest in groups called heronries. These consist of 4-20 large nests high up in the tree tops and are used year after year. When you see them you are left wondering why such a large bird would use such a high position, as they balance on the bending tree branches. An unusual courtship dance by the male precedes mating, he stretches his neck up then lowers it over his back, with his bill pointing upwards. The females lay 3-5 from February onwards. The birds are raucous and fascinating to watch, a heronry I have visited and seen these large birds and their young in the tree tops is RSPB West Sedgemoor, Somerset which is one of the UK's largest heronries. Here they have hides overlooking the trees, however you do need to visit before the leaves start to come back because then it is more difficult to get a glimpse of this large bird high up in the trees.
See also the Nature and Wildlife Calendar - February
Other species can be found listed in the Wildlife and Animals section of the Topic Index and plants within the Nature, Flora and Countryside section, more lists may be found from the Wildlife & Nature index page within the reference section. These lists also give you links to other websites allowing you more information on what we have and haven't yet covered.
So what could you photograph this Month
Hazel Catkin Jane Cockman
Nuthatch Roger Butterfield
Siskin Steve Chilton
Kingfisher by Graham Canny
Great Crested Grebe Courtship Marj Kibby