According to some, the winter blues are their most potent this month. But fear not, woods are proven to lift our spirits, reduce stress, soothe and inspire us. So put your boots on, wrap up warm and keep watch for a few of the following…
Trees/shrubs… Hazel catkins begin to stretch and open out, bringing a glimpse of new life. These are the male flowers, next month the females flowers will open and the catkins will shed their pollen to fertilise them. Juniper’s winter foliage is tinged bronze and offers much needed shelter to birds and small mammals. The berries also provide sustenance through this lean period.
Plants… The pendulous flowers of snowdrops start to open, gradually carpeting the woodland floor in delicate white blooms. The delightfully named stinking hellebore is another to keep your eyes, or nose, peeled for. This smelly herb, which likes open woodland, has greeny-yellow bell-shaped flowers with purple edges.
Fungi/lichens… Smoky bracket is a fungus visible all year. It grows in leathery, overlapping tiers on deadwood of deciduous trees. Candle snuff fungus, also known as stags horn fungus, is another one too look out for in winter. Lichens are a symbiosis of a fungus and an alga, found on trees and rocks they offer some welcome year-round colour. They are also an indicator of air pollution, the more delicate and rarer species only grow in areas with cleaner air.
Birds… Rooks will be industriously repairing their nests in preparation for their new broods. Robins mostly breed in March, but they can start as early as January if conditions are right. Other birds looking for mates include wrens and hedge sparrows. Blackbirds, greenfinches and song thrushes can be heard singing on sunny days. The sound of woodpeckers drumming on trees will carry further without canopy leaves to buffer the sound.
Mammals… Sleek red foxes mate between late December and February. During this time they are far less secretive; the males release short barks, while the females emit hormone fuelled screams.
Amphibians… The first newts and frogs emerge from hibernation and head to their breeding ponds. Some frog spawn may also be found this early in the year.
Insects… January is not a popular time for insects. But clouds of gnats can sometimes be seen on warmer, sunny days. Dragonfly and mayfly nymphs can be found in ponds, as water retains its heat more readily than air.