My latest Phenology news and the cold weather incoming

As nature’s circadian rhythms seem somewhat uncoordinated, here was I, hoping for colder weather come February. Well, some normality at last appears to be on its way, but first, some phenology.
  • My latest phenological event was yesterday, 27th January, in the form of a First heard drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker – Dendrocopos major. This event matches closely to the mean date of 28th January, based on 12 individual records.
Great Spotted Woodpecker, courtesy of BWPi
Great Spotted Woodpecker, courtesy of BWPi

However, alongside this, there have been other odd sightings. From various sources, I have heard of early/late Barn Swallows – Hirundo rustica, Honeybees on the wing and nesting Eurasian Blackbirds – Turdus merula to name but some. So, what of the weather hinted at earlier? To find out the latest, click on the attached link below.

Cold weather brings risk of snow to the UK.

Kind Regards

Tony Powell

The Birds, they are a-singing

The birds have been most vocal in recent days on my local patch and in the nearby countryside. To break down the detail, let us look at the birds that have been singing more or less every day since the autumn.

  • Great Tit (Parus major) has been a joy to hear with its “tit-su, tit-su, tit-su” lilt.
  • Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) with its repetitive three or four noted phrases rendered by myself as “did you do it, did you do it, did you, did you, did you” is a species which has been singing for many a week now.
  • European Robin (Erithacus rubecula) whose sweet notes delivered at an effortless pace something like “too de le, to de lu, swee, swee” is another species to have defending its territory since October or even before that.
  • Eurasian Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto) with the monotonous undertones of a weary football fan singing “united, united, united, united” has been singing since about late November.

Please notice that I have now given up on my pathetic renditions of the songs, which you access via places such as the Archival Sound Recordings  link at the British Library. However, I do also possess many semi-professional standard sound recordings myself, which are a joy to listen to.

Now, in January, one can add a whole multitude of other bird species to be heard singing. If you are an early riser, only the early mornings will likely provide you with a Blackbird (Turdus Merula). My first recorded date for Blackbird, being the 9th January is my earliest date on record, based on a series of 14 individual dates. The only thing I will say, is that along with the aforementioned Robin, they can be fooled to sing by the street lighting and may well be heard singing, even on a mild Christmas day. I did actually hear the Blackbird on one day in December, however now that it has started, it will sing every day right through to late June.

Another bird, which I keep records for, is the Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) and again, the date on which I heard it, the 13th January is my earliest on record based on a series of 9 individual dates. My two most amazing records this year must however be the Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita) and Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla). Both of which I heard on the 15th January during a WEBS count at a local gravel pit. Needless to say, the first heard singing Chiffchaff is again, my earliest date on record, this time, by nearly two months. My average date of 11th March for a singing Chiffchaff and based on 18 individual records shows the oddity of this date. As for the Blackcap, I do not keep individual records as we often get these winter visitors come to our feeders in the garden.

As you can see from the above, I do not note every bird species that I hear singing for the first time, but from memory, you can additionally add the following species, as having been in song since January 1st.

I have also heard three good woodland dwelling species in form of Coal Tit (Periparus ater), Eurasian Nuthatch (Sitta europaea) and Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris) on occasions since early January. In addition, today – 18th January, I was surprised to hear the Greenfinch (Carduelis chloris) in song, for the first time since last summer.

The above is not exhaustive and there may well be others to add to the avian songsters list as upon browsing the internet, other folk have reported the following.

  • Wrens (Troglodytes troglodytes), Dunnocks (Prunella modularis) and even Great-Spotted Woodpeckers (Dendrocopos major) drumming and of course, there are always those darn Wood Pigeons (Columba palumbus).

Kind Regards

Tony Powell

Another sign of seasonal shifting?

I, for one would not argue against this latest evidence. See my Natural Events Calendar link for a personal slant from last year.  It is pure conjecture as to whether there is a definite trend but these events are thought provoking, to say the least.

Butterflies move faster than birds in response to climate change

Kind Regards

Tony Powell

Two more indicators of seasonal change

Dear readers, I have two further events as mentioned in yesterday’s post. They are as follows.


I first witnessed a truly wild Primrose (Primula vulgaris) in flower on 7th January but as on other occasions, I have seen other varieties elsewhere, even in November and December this year just gone. However, if taking my 7th January date as gospel, my list of dates range from the certain Novembers or Decembers through to 2nd March. The adjusted mean date for all 16 records being 23rd January.

Primrose (Primula Vulgaris) in flower

Primrose with its vernacular name of “spinkie” or more appropriately “prima rosa” meaning first flower/first rose is always a welcome sight early in the season. In the past there were a very common sight and were picked profusely. However, numbers in the wild have dwindled a little but remain in good numbers in the right habitats. Having a scattered distribution, Primroses are seen in ancient woodlands or adorning hedge banks, and are often planted in gardens as they can be widely purchased. They also have a habit of colonising motorway embankments. They are able to self-pollinate, however bees and certain Lepidoptera will also help in this process.

In addition, Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria) was flowering locally for the first time on 7th January. The current range of dates extends from 21st December through to 13th March, this being based on 16 records. The adjusted mean date works out at 7th February, a full two weeks earlier than in Gilbert White’s day.

Lesser Celandine (Ranuncula ficaria) in flower

Gilbert White, the 18th Century naturalist quoted these delightful little yellow star-like flowers as blooming on average around 21st February. Like many other phenological indicators however, the current climate as per my figures above denotes otherwise. Lesser Celandines have possessed various names over the years. Known names have included “spring messengers” or “pilewort” and a Greek derivation of “chelidonia” meaning a “swallow” you can see the fondness associating with them. The swallow connection being especially bizarre as this migrant species arrives well after the Lesser Celandine has started flowering. Moreover, folk now believe this was misquoted as it were more likely associated with the unrelated Greater Celandine. Being another member of the Ranunculaceae – buttercup family, they are sometimes looked upon as weeds, which, can soon carpet many a meadow and field. Some farmers believe the plants to be responsible for poisoning cattle and sheep.

Kind Regards

Tony Powell

Hazel catkins now flowering

The progress of my local natural events is unrelenting. Whoever tells us winter is a time of “nothingness” is surely ill informed?

ARKive video - Male hazel catkins releasing pollen onto female flowers

I have recorded the first emergence of Hazel Catkins Flowering on 8 occasions and this year’s flowering is one of the earlier dates, having witnessed a variety in flower on 7th January 2012. Alongside this, two other events regarded as potential phenological indicators also occurred. My range of dates for Hazel Catkins Flowering covers the 6th January through to the 20th February and the mean date is now 26th January.

Common Hazel Catkins Flowering – Corylus avellana

The superb video above this post shows the aforementioned process in action. It happens even before the leaves have had a chance to develop. The male flowering catkins as in my example are pale yellow in colouration and are 5 to 12cm long. The female flowers are barely visible with only their red styles showing are 1 to 3mm long. With an estimated 14 to 18 species in the genus, Hazel is described sometimes as a shrub and not a true tree. However, Hazels can grow to 10 metres tall. As an important component of hedgerows, they once marked boundaries and are still coppiced to this day. We have a genus of Hazel in our garden called the Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’) and many admire it. Common Hazel and other types such as filbert (Corylus maxima) are grown specifically for their Hazelnuts, also known as cobs. The tree is closely linked to certain animals such as Dormice – Hazel Mouse, Grey and Red Squirrels and many species of birds, fungi, lichens and moths.

Kind Regards

Tony Powell

The Daffodils are out already!

I have recorded the first emergence of Daffodil on 16 occasions and this year’s flowering is one of the earlier dates, having witnessed a variety in flower on 2nd January 2012. My range of dates covers the 1st December through to the 2nd March with the mean being 29th January.

Welsh Daffodils, courtesy of wikipedia
Wild Daffodil (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) courtesy of Natural History Museum -
Wild Daffodil (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) courtesy of Natural History Museum

Daffodil – Narcissus (plant)

Daffodils come in a variety of shapes and sizes and colours. The parts of the flower known as the perianth and corona can differ in colouration or equally contain the same pigments. They bloom in a variety of yellows, whites, oranges, pinks, reds or even greens.

Known by various vernacular names such as Daffys, Lent Lily’s, Easter lily’s, the true Wild Daffodil (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) often flowers between the months of March and April. Because of this, they are often associated with Mothering Sunday and Palm Sunday. I personally, have records of the Wild Daffodil in bloom on an average date of 9th March and there are particular woods in the United Kingdom where only the wild variety grow. However, these places are getting rarer, due to the destruction of their ancient woodland sites. Dependent on where you are located within the UK, some  varieties of Narcissi bloom as early as late November.

Farmers and landowners once harvested wild Narcissuses to provide them with a welcome additional income. As with others in the plant kingdom, there have been occasions of poisoning where children had mistakenly eaten Daffodil bulbs, believing them to be onions.  

Kind Regards

Tony Powell


And now the Snowdrops

According to my records, I have noted the first emergence of Woodland Snowdrops on 16 occasions. This year’s flowering, as with Winter Aconite has been witnessed on the earliest date on record, being the 30th December. The full range of dates from 30th December right through to 20th January. Another 2011 oddity in that Woodland Snowdrops was noted flowering twice in one year.

Snowdrops Greyfriars Dunwich 220211 7346

The above picture courtesy of Finn Holding’s Flickr site.

Woodland Snowdrop – Galanthus nivalis

Known by its various vernacular names such as Candlemas Bells, Snow Piercers and Dingle-dangle to name a few, the Woodland Snowdrop is a joy to see when it first emerges. The Woodland Snowdrop’s Greek name Galanthus comes from the word “milk flower” and it is the British version is one of a genus of at least 20 members. Some members of the genus do actually bloom in summer or autumn despite the name but thankfully, that appears not to be an issue with Galanthus nivalis. The Woodland Snowdrop has leaf tips especially hardened for breaking through frozen ground. Having similar traits to Winter Aconite both can be blooming for the first time on the exact same date. However, the Woodland Snowdrop tends to bloom for longer than the Winter Aconite and is well-known as being a winter and spring survivor. I have personal records of the Woodland Snowdrop still being in bloom in early to mid April.

Its history links the flower to various places of monastic origin and it has a tendency to thrive on sites such as long since destroyed cottage ruins. There are many gardens in the United Kingdom where people can go to see vast carpets of these wondrous plants and they open up their grounds especially for this purpose.

Kind Regards

Tony Powell