It’s the start of a new year – but in many ways things haven’t changed, and we’re continuing with the restrictions of lockdown during the coronavirus crisis. So our sightings remain very local (and not just the usual `within five miles of Tideswell`), and you might think will just be a repeat of this time last year. But the seasons also remind us that nature is continually changing and shifting. Seasonal change is always exciting and welcome, but how is nature changing over time?
We know that biodiversity in the UK is suffering a dramatic decline due to man-made impacts such as climate change and agricultural intensification. Academics talk about `shifting baseline syndrome` – which means that we often only remember the landscape of our childhood, and not how rich and diverse it might have been several decades before that. What will our own children remember from their childhoods? Keeping biological records can help us remember what we have lost, as well as cherish what we still have. The first bird song or the first frog spawn are all important to record – not just to appreciate the seasons and celebrate nature, but also to monitor change and understand natural processes.
So please keep sharing your wildlife sightings, on our group Facebook page and on our web site , or you can just email me (email@example.com), and I will try to summarise our sightings every quarter and post them on the web site (previous wildlife sightings blogs can be seen here).
Living where we do, January to March can be hugely changeable weatherwise. This year, we’ve had snow, floods, the warmest March day in the UK in 53 years, recorded on 30 March, and then (as I write this on 5 April) more snow. It certainly makes life interesting.
So our early wildlife sightings were often in our back gardens. Feeding our garden birds during the winter months can be esssential for their survival. And many of us are rewarded with many different, colourful species. We saw treecreepers and goldcrests early on this year, and Adam Saunders captured some wonderful video of a great spotted woodpecker, alongside all the usual finches and tits. We also seem to have more blackbirds than ever before.
Several of us took part in the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch at the end of January, and this is a summary of some of those results – just one hour’s worth of birdwatching in some of our gardens over that wintry weekend.
The `New Year Plant Hunt` is also promoted on social media. People post images of any flowers in bloom on 1 January. We didn’t see very much in Tideswell Dale and Millers Dale – but we did come across some lovely evergreen ferns, which almost made up for the lack of any flowers. As well as the hart’s tongue fern (Asplenium scolopendrium) and hard shield fern (Polystichum aculeatum), we also spotted both polypody (Polypodium interjectum), and some maidenhair spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes). Even on the coldest, grey day, there is plenty to see in our local area.
Autumn is the traditional time to go hunting for toadstools and other fungi. But there are still plenty to see at this time of the year as well – and some are truly startling. Just look at these examples from Laura Saunders and Sue Mayer.
Lots of mammals remain active even over the colder months. Our members have seen grey squirrels, brown rats, field mice and bank voles over the winter months, often in their gardens (and often tempted in by overspill from bird feeders). Phil Grainger even found tracks of what might be a local badger visiting his garden in early February.
But it is a sure sign that spring is on the way, when we notice other animal activity in our gardens. The first hedgehogs were reported by Leonie Redfern in Litton. Deborah Fulford has seen two brown hares, fairly active, around the Meadow Lane loop, near Tideswell, and we have seen hares on the TV Mast walk. A common pipistrelle bat was recorded on his new bat detector by Adam Saunders in Tideswell Dale, right at the end of March.
Frogs were mating incredibly early in Phil Grainger’s garden pond (although his pond is heated over the winter – which they obviously appreciate!).
By watching (and listening to) our migrating birds, we can also follow the changing seasons. During the winter months, some species visit from further north to spend the winter with us in our relatively warm climate. Adam Saunders noted redwings in Hay Dale quite late in the year. We spotted a large flock of fieldfare, also in Hay Dale and up in Tideslow Rake at the end of March, as did Deborah Fulford on her Meadow Lane walks. These are both members of the thrush family who will leave us as soon as the weather warms and fly back to Scandinavia and other more northern climes.
And just as some birds come here for the winter and leave as spring arrives, we can also look out for our own spring and summer visitors. Curlews were first spotted back on our local farmland by Deborah Fulford on 9 March on her Meadow Lane loop walk (along with skylarks and meadow pipits). Curlews were also seen by Leonie Redfern later in March near Litton; their call must surely be one of the most evocative sounds of spring? We also heard our first chiffchaff calling in Millers Dale on 31 March – again, so familiar in the spring and summer months.
Other birds just seem to become more active – such as herons (seen by Sheelagh Handy and Laura Saunders), dippers nesting alongside our limestone dale streams, and birds of prey such as buzzards, kestrels and sparrowhawks.
One of the most welcome sights of spring has to be the variety of wild flowers carpeting our local dales, woodlands and green spaces. Lesser celandines have to be one of the earliest, alongside members of the dandelion family – all really important for bees and other insects. One of our new projects in 2021 will be to try to encourage gardeners and local councils not to mow their lawns, verges and other green spaces, quite so frequently in order to encourage more wild flowers to bloom (guided by the Plantlife campaign, which you can read more about here).
Alongside our limestone dale streams, we can now see butterbur flowers in abundance (before their large `rhubarb-like` leaves take over). The dales woodlands at the end of March are also carpeted by wood anemones and violets. A particularly rare flowering shrub in our local wooded dales is Daphne mezereum, with its lovely fragrance.
Insects, particularly bees and butterflies, are also harbingers of spring. They often enter a dormant period over the coldest months, and begin to appear as the sunshine warms and flowers provide early feeding opportunities. Our lesser celandines have seen many bumble bees in the last few weeks. We’ve had reports of one or two peacock and small tortoiseshell butterflies, and the unusually warm late March weather resulted in quite a few brimstone butterflies in our local dales.
We are particularly delighted that TDEG have just organised a new butterfly transect team to monitor butterflies in Tideswell Dale. Following the sad but necessary tree felling work in the dale, undertaken by the National Trust in order to cope with ash dieback disease, many local people are interested in how the flora and fauna in the dale might change over time. So a group of TDEG members will be undertaking weekly surveys of the dale, guided by Butterfly Conservation. Other members are also planning to undertake bat surveys as the year progresses as well.
Perhaps as the weather warms, and covid restrictions lessen, we may also be able to arrange some local group walks to share our findings more widely – watch this space!
Red legged partridge
Great spotted woodpecker
Tawny owl (heard only)
Lesser black-backed gull
Spurge Laurel (Daphne mezereum)
Hart’s tongue fern
Hard shield fern
Common pipistrelle bat
Small tortoiseshell butterfly
Bumble bee (Bombus spp)
Scarlet elf cup
Wood ear fungus