Winter may still be holding its grip, but it's time to start looking for those first signs of spring.
Badger setts become a hive of activity in February. As you wonder through woodlands or near hedgerows, you may spot old bedding including straw, bracken and leaves appearing outside their burrows as badgers carry out some spring cleaning and gather new bedding in readiness for the birth of cubs, which are due anytime now. The cubs will remain underground until April or May.
Snowdrops line roadside verges, hedge bottoms, woodland tracks and gardens of great houses between January and March. They're a welcome sign that winter is nearing its end. Enjoy the brief but spectacular displays of these delicateodding white flowers at Mount Grace Priory, Castle Howard and Burton Agnes Hall near Driffield.
Also look out for:
Wild primroses making their first appearance. Lovely clumps of cheery yellow flowers, clustered on roadside verges and woodland banks. Farndale and Rosedale are good places to see them.
Roe deer, as the vegetation has died down it's easier to see them at this time of year. Roe deer are relatively small, have a reddish, grey body with a grey face, and short antlers. You'll see them in most of the forests across the North York Moors, including Cropton and Dalby, picking their way through the mature trees or, on a bright and sunny morning, feeding amongst replanted young trees.
While you're there, take the time to stop and listen too as there's a good chance you'll hear a great spotted woodpecker at work, the most common of our three native species. Listen for it drumming on dead wood – it's quite loud and has a hollow sound that carries through the woodland. With black and white plumage, and a deep red rump, the head of the male has a distinct black crown and red nape too.
Walk of the month
Head to Howdale Moor and Brow Moor, where short-eared owls feed along the coasts over winter and are commonly seen hunting during the day. You'll not forget your first encounter with one as it works low over the fields in the late winter sun. Where there are grassy areas, keep an eye out for finger-size grey owl pellets regurgitated and full of bones of their prey.
Yorkshire Coast Nature tips
The experts at Yorkshire Coast Nature are our eyes on the ground, here's their pointers on what else to look out for this month.In February many smaller mammals are trying to survive the winter with both bats and hedgehogs still hibernating. Look out for field voles in areas of rough grassland as they become much more diurnal during cold weather. With natural food supplies running short, their close relatives, bank voles, will often visit bird feeders to gather spilt seeds. As the month progresses brown hares will become a much more prominent sight in fields with increased boxing occurring as the breeding season gets into full swing.
Mistle thrushes are nest-building and males sing from treetops even in high winds, hence the old name ‘Stormcock’. Woodcocks are often disturbed from sheltered places this month by people out walking and will disappear quickly in a zig-zag flight. On the North York Moors coastline it's a good time to see common scoter. This is now such an uncommon breeding species in the UK that it is one of only two British ducks on the Red List i.e. declining severely in numbers.However, it is common offshore in winter, so scan the sea for rafts of this dark-plumaged duck.
The end of February can mark the beginning of the amphibian breeding season in a mild winter with the first common frogs making their way back to breeding ponds. These early emergers are usually males establishing a breeding territory in anticipation of the females. Some males may bypass this migration by hibernating in the pond itself, risking a less stable hibernation site for a better chance of mating.
Other amphibians, in particular great crested newts, may also make their way back to ponds by late February. Male adders and common lizards also start emerging from their hibernation sites and basking at the entrance in late February.
Insects remain thin on the ground during February, with warm weather towards the end of the month increasing your chances of seeing an early queen bumblebee, wasp or butterfly. Peacock, small tortoiseshell and brimstone are the most frequently seen of our early spring butterflies, with a chance too of comma and red admiral.
In woodlands small green flowers of the foul-smelling dog’s mercury may be observed and on waste ground coltsfoot, which is related to Dandelion but has scaly stems. Unusually, the flowers always appear before the leaves. Towards the end of the month catkins are also emerging before the leaves of their trees: goat willow produces silver female catkins and, on separate trees, golden male ones (the distinctive ‘pussy willow’). Alder, which prefers damp places, has dangling yellow male catkins and smaller purplish female flowers.
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