Garden News

Nature: things to look out for in February

Juliets Jottings roundallWildlife enthusiast and resident volunteer at Exbury, Juliet, describes some of the interesting things in nature to look out for during February:

It’s always worthwhile bearing in mind that among the commonly expected signs of each season you may be lucky enough, or indeed unlucky enough, to come across something unexpected. Real enjoyment often comes from observation of small seasonal changes, such as the swelling of the tree buds. A walk can be enriched by noticing such things and it could be a challenge to see how many you can find. If you are familiar with the common sights you will be struck by something unusual, such as the leucistic crow mentioned here. The Asian Hornet is a serious potential threat to our wildlife so anyone familiar with the native species has a good chance of being able to pick one out and help to minimize the harm by reporting it.

Leaf buds

If you are wondering what is of interest at this time of year try taking a close look at twigs and their buds. Most people are familiar with the different leaf shapes of our various tree species, but their buds are equally revealing.

Beech buds are slender and pointy and the twigs grow in a kind of zig zag shape.

Beech

Beech buds in the gardens

By contrast, oak buds are brown and blocky and tend to have clusters at the end of the twigs.

oak

Oak buds in the gardens

Ash buds are well known to be black and grow close to the pale stem of the twig.

Ash

Ash buds in the gardens

Perhaps the best known of all is horse chestnut, with its large sticky terminal bud.

horse chestnut

Horse chestnut by Top Pond in Home Wood 

Alder has purple buds and catkins, and magnolia buds can be large and furry.  

Magnolia Alder

Magnolia and alder (respectively) 

All these common tree species are easy to identify by their buds alone. With other less obvious ones, such as cherry, hazel, birch, lime, etc., you can help to identify them by looking at the bark, catkins, old seed pods, fallen leaves and general tree shape.

Asian hornets

Beware the Asian hornet! Everyone should be looking out for this insect this summer as there is a distinct possibility that it may colonise the UK.

asian hornet

Asian hornet

Why the concern?

The Asian hornet comes from China, arriving in France in 2004, and has colonised large parts of the continent. It is a voracious predator of other beneficial insects including honey bees and other pollinators such as butterflies, bumblebees and hoverflies. Two nests were detected in Hampshire in 2018, one near Alresford, the other near Brockenhurst, though happily both were destroyed.

What do they look like?

The Asian hornet is smaller than the native hornet and much darker, with a dark brown or black velvety body, an orange band on the fourth segment of its abdomen and orange markings on its face. It has yellow tipped legs, dark at the base. It tends to nest very high in trees or other structures, and is not active at night.

By comparison, the European hornet is larger, with an orange yellow abdomen and uniformly coloured pale legs.

compare hornets

Left = European hornet, right = Asian hornet

What can I do?

If you spot one you should immediately email the authorities at , who will then seek out and destroy the nest. If possible send a photo and include information on location, date and number of Asian hornets seen. For more information please visit www.gov.uk's dedicated webpage.

Leucism

The other day there was a crow hanging about on the grass near Mr Eddy’s restaurant which had a distinctive symmetrical white-spotted pattern on its feathers.

Leucistic crow

Leucistic crow outside Mr Eddy's Restaurant

This crow had a condition called leucism, in which a genetic mutation causes loss of pigmentation in some feathers. Some birds have just one or two white feathers, while others can be white all over or with big white blotches. It is not the same as albinism – the eyes can stay dark instead of turning the stereotypical red/pink. Blackbirds, crows, rooks and most other black coloured birds are all sometimes seen with these strange patterns.

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What wildlife to spot in the gardens

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