February sightings

Valentine’s Day (Feb 14th) is traditionally when birds start their courtship. Bang on cue, I was greeted at breakfast by the local Herons, wheeling in pairs over their nesting site in Newnham and   vocalising. Let us not call it song! Squeals, yelps, grunts, squawks, honks, barks, growls, clucks, squeaks and hisses are interspersed with vigorous bill clattering – quite the noisiest courtship ever. The heronry appeared in Newnham a few years ago and seems to be doing fairly well. In the summer of 2015, I counted a crèche of 14 juveniles standing around in the field waiting for the adults to reappear with food.

A few years ago, the churchyard of Little St Mary’s Church was rescued from a totally over-grown state and is now a shaded and secluded garden. I found Winter Heliotrope (Petasites fragrans), in bloom and fragrant. This has been the site of a place of worship since around the twelfth century and it is tempting to wonder if some of its plants may have existed on this spot for many generations. Its cousin, butterbur, is not yet in flower, but there is a large patch in the Paradise Nature Reserve, known to exist there since the 1600s. Meanwhile, on a Sarcococcus bush in the churchyard, early Honeybees were enjoying the fragrant flowers.

Winter heliotrope

As winter progresses, my log pile gets ever smaller and I am careful to brush off any animals which live there. This month’s spider is the Lace-weaver Spider, Amaurobius similis. They are about 10mm long, mainly brown with a patterned abdomen and very common in houses and gardens. They lurk between the logs, weaving a wispy, blueish web, extending from a hole between the logs. In this retreat, eggs are laid in a silken sac and on hatching, their first meal might well be the mother who has not survived them!




Amaurobius similis and web

Olwen Williams