The appearance of the snowdrop is a classic sign that winter is, if not exactly over, at least on the wane, and spring may be around the corner. If we search every nook of our gardens, parks, woods and churchyards, we’ll find that tell-tale sign of the of the first green shoots that come before those delicate yet hardy snow-white blooms
Traditionally snowdrops are expected to begin flowering on Candlemas Day (2 Februrary), but they can bloom at any time between January and late March, depending on how far north or south they are, and whether or not it has been a mild or hard winter.

– ‘The Great British Year‘ – Stephen Moss

We have seen a largely mild, damp winter here in our corner of Sussex. So far we have missed out on the snow that has fallen elsewhere and any really cold snaps have been unsustained. I have been following Mr Moss’ example and been out in search of snowdrops. The cemetery is the best place to look; and around the base of the oak that stands opposite the pub, where if you’re lucky you might also spy the first leaves of crocus along side the earlier snowdrops.

The timely arrival of the snowdrops helps to soothe a nagging issue I have with our recent winters; I first identified it last year when I realised, that there simply isn’t enough white.

Not enough glinting frosts, not enough paper snowflakes (or real snowflakes for that matter). I’m thinking hellebores, crisp table cloths and freshly washed window frames. Hand written envelopes and the sugar coating on cake. Crumpled tissue paper. The ghostly apparition of a field-side barn owl, the streak above a redwings eye. Starlight through the moth holes of nights cloud curtain.” – Solstice – December 20th 2019

Did you know, statistically we are more likely to have snow now, than a white Christmas? Spring is a fickle season.

More often however, by the end of February the general trend is rising temperatures and optimism in the sunshine. Here in Sussex, young lambs born inside barns in January or even December will be turned out to grass. By the end of the month there may even be the first greening of the verges with celandine and parsley leaves, the fuzzy catkins of willows, and perhaps enough daylight at the end of the day to walk the field edges before dusk and see the hares emerge like spirits from their forms twixt the furrows.

Things to look for this month

Snowdrops – Elder bud burst – early frogspawn in garden ponds – Rooks and Grey Herons returning to their tree top nesting colonies – Mistle Thrushes sing – Winter migrants preparing to leave – Great Crested Grebes courtship ‘dancing’ on lakes, reservoirs and millponds – first queen bumblebees emerge

I’m pretty sure I saw bumblebees active in every month last year, surely a sign/symptom of our warming climate. We can do a lot to help our wildlife adapt, even within our homes and gardens. Bumblebees and other invertebrates for example are often woken from hibernation by unseasonably mild weather, only to struggle to find food, as they are out of sync with the traditional blooming times of their wild flower counterparts. Ensuring there are pollinator friendly flowers in our gardens throughout the year, with something in bloom in every season, can be a huge benefit to wildlife.

Winter flowering plants for bees:

  • Mahonia
  • Winter flowering heather
  • winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima)
  • Sarcococca (sweet box)
  • Witch Hazel
  • Snowdrop
  • Primula
  • Crocus

In February, bird nesting season gets going with a fervour. Now is courtship time for many species, as they form pairs and claim territories. Some species have a head start; Robins paired up during the winter, with both male and female birds singing to mark and defend their patch. Ravens too are early breeders, often with young in the nest by this month. Old folklore also suggests that herons and rooks should be back on their tree-top colonies by the middle of February. In fact some tales go so far as to claim that if there is a heronry [within the grounds of an estate/house], and herons are not seen back at their nests by Valentines day, terrible tragedy will befall the [landowners] family!

three blue tits, two of which are perched in undergrowth on the left, waiting their turn on the peanut feeder, where the third bird clings and feeders, on the right hand edge of the picture

Continue to provide food and fresh water for garden birds through late winter and into the spring. It is valuable for breeding birds to have a ‘pitstop’ where they can easily refuel, so they can spend more of their energy on finding food for their chicks. This winter has seen a significant outbreak of avian flu (you may have seen the news articles about agricultural flocks and back yard poultry alike going into their own kind of ‘lockdown’) in wild birds. To help stop the spread and protect the birds in your area, it is important to regularly clean bird tables, feeding stations and water dishes. Soapy water does a good job, or you can buy pet-friendly disinfectants which contain no harmful chemicals (look online or in your local pet supply store). Try to avoid large build up of waste food beneath feeding areas, and refresh water frequently.

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