Nature Column: Time to care for feathered friends

A great-spotted woodpecker on a garden birdfeeder. RSPB Images
A great-spotted woodpecker on a garden birdfeeder. RSPB Images
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February can be one of the coldest winter months as we move slowly towards spring. This is the time to look out for signs of things to come.

As a nation we are always alert to the start of spring, looking for the first bud, the first flower.

This is due to our seasonal climate and maybe because we are so eager for the better weather to arrive!

In this area we have an abundance of natural habitats where we can explore the new season unfolding.

It is also important to continue our support for wildlife in the garden. Even though we are approaching spring, this time of year is the harshest for living creatures as they have already had to endure a long, hard winter and reserves are low.

Top up birdfeeders and ensure there is food and water left out nearer the ground for dunnocks and wrens. The beaks of these little birds cannot tolerate hard seed so feed them with dried meal worms. Blackbirds and robins will love these too.

The dunnock (Prunella modularis) is one of the first birds you will hear singing as winter comes to an end.

As its name suggests it is a little brown bird and could be mistaken for a house sparrow.

However, take a closer look and you will see a slimmer, greyer bird with a red-brown eye and a peculiar jerky movement, hence one of its other names, the “shufflewing”.

Watch these birds searching for food on low walls and along garden borders, or hear them singing from the top of a large shrub in a high-pitched erratic melody, a welcome sound in winter.

Even in the bleakness of February we may see many of our favourite garden birds getting ready to pair off and build nests. Now is a good time to create a hanging feeder containing wool, hay and pet hair for our feathered friends to use.

If the latter part of the month is mild we may see the early emergence of hibernating creatures such as the hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) (if they have hibernated at all this year!).

One of the best foods for hedgehogs, in the absence of earthworms, is dry catfood, however this often interests all the cats in the neighbourhood which in turn endangers your garden birds.

A few soaked mealworms are the better alternative!

A kerbside plant to keep watch for now is the Common Scurvy grass (Cochlearia officinalis) so-named as it was taken to sea by sailors for its rich supply of vitamin C, so preventing the disease of Scurvy.

Look for this plant when you are in a traffic queue on a busy road!

The small, spoon-shaped leaves are now just peeping out from muddy kerbsides.

This plant would normally thrive in salty areas close to the coast.

Surprisingly, the reason for its abundance on our roadsides now is due to the spreading of salt to counteract snow and ice.

By April it will be a mass of tiny, cream-coloured flowers.

Our nature column is written by Corinna Hoptroff, a retired health lecturer who has kept a keen interest in the natural world since she was a young girl. She and her husband Charlie frequently go for walks around Stamford but rarely get as far as they would like, as they have their heads down inspecting interesting beetles or plants.

Corinna, who lives in Conduit Road, Stamford, hopes to share her enthusiasm with readers with this, her monthly column