Nature Note – January
Lasts and Firsts
At the turn of the year naturalists get a bit obsessive about last (2021) and first (2022) sightings.
Two of my personal highlights in December were a drumming great spotted woodpecker in mild weather in mid-December and my final moth of the year attracted to the security lights on my garage in the week before Christmas. The woodpecker was a surprise; drumming isn’t usually heard much before March when breeding territories are being established. The moth, a December moth, was a reminder that there are moth species on the wing in every month of the year. Although a rather tatty specimen, this is an attractive moth in comparison to other late flyers, such as November moth and Winter moth.
It was the warmest New Year’s Day on record and 2022 started very well for me. A peacock butterfly was enjoying the midday sun in the car park at Egleton, Rutland Water on 4 January. This was my earliest ever butterfly sighting. Butterflies that hibernate as adults (including small tortoiseshell, red admiral and brimstone), can fly around on any particularly warm day in winter.
Grey squirrels only disappear in the coldest weather and hares seem to be quite active. However, the only large mammals I have seen to date are a couple of (sadly dead by the road) badgers. I suspect that my next large mammal of the year will be a fox, a muntjac or an otter.
Many of our earliest spring flowers have been given a helping hand by gardeners. However, one of our earliest wildflowers, winter aconite, is an introduced, now naturalised, species. If you are fortunate enough to come across a bright yellow woodland floor the flowers you are looking at will have spread themselves, regardless of where they came from originally.
Some of our common resident birds sing throughout the winter. Robins are particularly vocal as they defend feeding territories throughout the winter. Other birds are only sporadic winter songsters, so I was delighted to hear the haunting, fluty song of a mistle thrush on 1st January. Song is often triggered by day length. Mid-February, Valentine’s Day, is the approximate time when our resident birds get serious about establishing and defending territories. The mistle thrush and a few snatches of song thrush on 3 January were no doubt triggered by the unseasonal temperatures.
One of the big events in January is the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch. All participation records were broken in 2021 as lockdown kept us all at home with time on our hands. Many people submitted their bird counts for the first ever time. Please don’t let that be a one-off. This year the count takes place on the final weekend in January; please see the RSPB website for details and happy counting.