Parish Nature Notes for February - John Wright


February will be remembered for some very cold weather during the first twelve days of the month. Although we don't have a garden pond, a friend of mine told me that frogs returning to their breeding ponds in January had their spawn destroyed by the freezing conditions of early Febuary. Having said that, some frogs and also toads were able to spawn as milder conditions prevailed much later in February.



Common Frog
Common Frog

Photograph: Ken Dolbear

In the first few days of the month, the still plentiful supply of holly berries on bushes in Wareham Forest and Morden Bog were exploited by flocks of
redwing and fieldfare. On Great Ovens heath, despite the freezing conditions, a couple of dartford warblers sang as the sun shone and a snipe burst into the
air with zig-zag flight from one of the recently-dug ponds in the north-east corner of the reserve. A long-pointed bill designed for extracting invertebrates
from deep mud is of very limited use when the ground is frozen. I imagine that a river-bank or salt marsh should offer better conditions for feeding when
temperatures are low.


Snipe

Snipe

Photograph: Ken Dolbear


On 4th February most of Morden Park Lake was frozen over but a small area of open water at the north end was surrounded by well over 200 mallard - more than I have ever seen on this lake. In addition, a few wigeon, one of the ducks to visit our shores in winter from their breeding grounds in northern Scandanavia and Russia, also appeared. As conditions remained cold over the next few days a few redwing and fieldfare appeared in our garden, and fed on the few remaining crabs apples.



Fieldfare

Photograph: Ken Dolbear

By the 11th, although it was still cold, the ice at Morden Park Lake had melted and almost all the mallard had disappeared. However, to my surprise a female
mallard was leading a group of 5 newly-hatched ducklings across the water. As sometimes happens, the mild weather of early January had encouraged the mallard to lay a clutch of eggs and despite the cold conditons of late winter, it had successfully brooded and hatched her family. A small group of teal, most of which appear in Britain in winter to avoid the colder winters of northern Europe also flew over the lake and landed in the marginal vegetation. Most curious of all, there were about 18 gadwall (another surface-feeding duck) which, either singly or in pairs, seemed to be shadowing single coots on the surface of the lake. As the coots dived to feed and then resurfaced they must have stirred the deeper waters sufficiently to bring small items of food to the surface which were then picked up by the Gadwall in attendance.



Male Teal

Photograph: Ken Dolbear

As it became warmer in the middle of the month, one or two skylarks started singing over agricultural fields between Sandford and Organford and by the 17th it was mild, although overcast and there were increasing signs of spring within Wareham Forest and Morden Bog. Near a badger sett there were plenty of signs that the adults were active above ground and grubbing about for worms and insects at a time when they probably had new-born young underground. Several song thrushes, goldcrests and a single blackbird were all singing, a marsh tit was seen and the single Great Crested Grebe on Morden Park Lake remained prominent in mid-water, presumably still hoping to attract a mate.

Back home, at lunchtime a green woodpecker appeared on the lawn and was so intent on extracting ants that I was able to get a few photos. This helped to
confirm that the bird was female - the black moustache of the male has an additional central red stripe. Having been rather quiet overwinter, the green
woodpeckers in the Parish are now starting to become more obvious with their loud 'yaffling' song which sounds rather like prolonged maniacal laughter.



Green Woodpecker

Photograph: John Wright

On the 18th a woodlark was singing at the northern end of Sandford Heath and two days later a pair of woodlarks flew up from the path in front of me just
west of the gun-emplacement. A little further on, a dartford warbler popped up on a gorse bush, and in walking south along the A351, lesser celendine were
appearing on grassy roadside verges in increasing numbers.


A walk round Wareham Forest and Morden Bog on the 23rd, just before the Sunseeker Rally, convinced me that many heathland birds were returning for
the spring and setting up territories. There were plenty of linnets and meadow pipits about and three male stonechats were seen in Morden Bog. In addition, a total of seven woodlarks were seen, four of them singing, plus three dartford warblers (two singing) and also a Yellowhammer. The latter managed the first
half of its song - 'A little bit of bread......' We will have to wait another few days for the '....and no cheese' to be added.



Male Stonechat

Photograph: Ken Dolbear

A couple of days later I visited the southern end of the Parish to the west of Carey and found Butcher's Broom in flower. This curious evergreen woodland
plant has green flowers on the surface of what appear to be oval pointed leaves but which are in fact flattened stems. After some months they give rise to
red cherry-sized berries.


Butcher's Broom
Butcher's Broom

Photograph: John Wright

On the same walk I noticed that the familiar male hazel catkins were extending and producing pollen. The female catkins on the same plant are much less
showy, being small red extensions from a bud, but of course, are responsible for producing the hazelnuts frequently stripped from the bushes by grey
squirrels before they are are fully ripe and of interest to humans. Take a close look at a hazel bush and see if you can spot the female catkins.



Female catkin on Hazel

Photograph: John Wright

As the month ended, occasional patches of sweet violets were starting to flower on pavements and grassy verges around the Parish. The sweet violet is the
first of our violets to appear in early spring and is also our only fragrant violet. However, if you do pick one or two and sniff them the smell is fleeting.
This is because the scent includes a chemical called ionine which has the ability to deaden our smell receptors, but only temporarily!


Sweet Violets
Sweet violets

Photograph: John Wright