February 2017

 Jacob's Ladder Sheila Sims

Jacob’s Ladder
Sheila Sims

When you look at the stunning skies we have in Norfolk, it’s no wonder that people used to think that heaven must be up there somewhere. Religious paintings often depicted God on his throne in the sky, surrounded by angels and there is a biblical story which says that Jacob, while on a journey, fell asleep and dreamt that there was a ladder in the sky connecting heaven with earth on which angels were descending and ascending. This is why we call the phenomenon caused by sun rays split by clouds, Jacob’s ladder.

There are many religious associations in the natural world; there is also a plant called Jacob’s ladder. We have, as well, St. Patrick’s Cabbage, St. John’s Wort, Star of Bethlehem, Archangel, Angelica, Aaron’s Rod and Lent Lily, another name for the Daffodil.

Animals also found their way into lots of bible stories and probably the first mentioned in person is the serpent who, as we know, caused a great deal of trouble! The Clothes moth is mentioned several times, always associated with destruction because of the feeding habits of its larvae.

 Early moth Sheila Sims

Early moth
Sheila Sims

A moth we only see at this time of year is the suitably named Early moth. After spending the winter as a pupa, just below the ground, the adult emerges in January and February when it can be found resting on the tip of a twig and is often seen in car headlights. As with other winter moths only the male flies; the female has short, stubby wings which are of no use for flying. When she emerges from pupation she will crawl to a suitable twig to await a male partner and after mating will lay her eggs on Hawthorn or Blackthorn which are the food plants for the hatching caterpillars.

 Snowdrops Sheila Sims

Snowdrops
Sheila Sims

Snowdrops remain in bloom into February and Primroses come into flower towards the end of the month, earlier if the weather is mild. The name ‘Primrose’ comes from the Latin prima rosa which means first rose.

 Primrose Sheila Sims

Primrose
Sheila Sims

 Common frog Sheila Sims

Common frog
Sheila Sims

Frogs and toads will be starting to emerge from their winter sleeping places, now, and will be making their way to their breeding ponds, if they are still there; many farm and village ponds have been filled in which has contributed to the decline in amphibians. Another reason for frogs suffering a loss of numbers, since the 1990s, is a virus known as ‘red leg.’ It is thought that bacteria and fungi could also play a part in this disease and it does affect other amphibians, reptiles and possibly fish. It is highly contagious and can be carried on boots and equipment from one body of water to another, so these should be thoroughly rinsed at home before using again.

 Siskin Sheila Sims

Siskin
Sheila Sims

February can be a cold month when birds will struggle to find food, so keep your feeders well stocked to help them. If you put out different types of food, such as seeds, peanuts and dried mealworms you will be visited by a variety of birds and one that often comes to feeders in the winter is the Siskin. This small finch can be confused with the Greenfinch which is bigger and differently marked. Siskins have forked tails and longer narrower beaks than most finches, useful for extracting seeds from pine cones. People living near pine forests often notice that these birds come to their garden feeders when there are rain clouds because pine cones close up then and the seeds are temporarily unavailable. (I can remember, as a child, hanging cones outside as weather forecasters and wondering how the trees they came from knew what was going to happen).  The planting of conifers as a crop in Britain has helped Siskins to spread from Scotland and Wales where they were most common in the past and numbers are boosted during the winter when European birds arrive. Siskins also like Alder and birch seeds and will eat some insects in the summer. The male has a glossy, black head and will raise these feathers to show off when displaying to a rival or potential mate. The female lays 4 – 5 eggs which are incubated by her alone. Agile, pretty little birds and always nice to see them when they arrive in our gardens in the early part of the year.

 Brown hare in decline Nicki Dixon

Brown hare
in decline
Nicki Dixon

In 2013 the first ‘State of Nature’ report was published comprising data gathered by different natural history organisations. The evidence was irrefutable that nature is in trouble and last year the second report supported this. Many species in Britain are in decline and some are on the brink of extinction. Changes in agricultural methods is cited as one of the main reasons. With the need for higher crop yields, policy driven intensive farming has become important. This has resulted in greater reliance on destructive chemicals, the increasing of workable land by removing ponds, hedges and wild field-side strips, land drainage and water extraction, all contributing to the destruction of natural habitats. But the population is growing and we need more food, so does it really matter if a little beetle or a wild flower becomes extinct in the process of achieving this, if there aren’t so many birds and frogs, if hares disappear for ever? People are more important, aren’t they? Yes, it does matter, it matters very much.

As we’ve talked about before all living things are linked, every plant, insect and animal is part of the chain of life. Plants go, insects go and if insects go, birds go and so on, right up the chain and who’s at the top? That’s right!  But we mustn’t put all the blame on the poor farmer who is only doing his job. As well as creating the need for more food, more people means more houses, so  towns and cities are expanding into the countryside bringing with them the loss of important habitats. People need to travel to and from home, so more land is planned to be taken up with airport expansion, railways and roads. I’m sure everyone in Norfolk is aware of the major road that is under construction at the moment, the Norwich Northern Distributor Road (NDR). Naturally, as always when these big projects are undertaken, there have been many arguments about the pros and cons. Some say that it will make travel easier and are very much for the road but some are against it and one of the main reasons is that it is cutting through great swathes of the countryside to the detriment of trees, plants and wildlife.

 Rocky the newt hound with Aran Courtesy of Norfolk County Council

Rocky the newt hound
with Aran
Courtesy of
Norfolk County Council

There is something to be said for both sides and I was pleased to read that Norfolk County Council, in conjunction with the contractors, is committed to doing as much as possible for nature by ‘greening’ the route that the new road will take. For every tree that is felled during construction, five are to be planted, also shrubs. Rocky, a Cocker spaniel with a nose for newts, helped to locate many amphibians which have been moved to a safe place and four new breeding ponds are to be created and existing ones improved. Nesting boxes for Barn owls and smaller birds are being placed and green bridges, wire gantry crossings and an underpass, to enable bats to follow their traditional feeding routes, are being constructed; roosting boxes will also be available for them. So, if we must have the big duel carriageway, at least something is being done to reduce the damage done. As always, I welcome your opinion.

If you want to read ‘The State of Nature’ reports they are available on the internet.

Things to do in February include:

  • Brilliant Birds – Cley Marshes. www.norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk or

01603 625540.

norwich-rspb@marnic50.plus.com

  • Wildlife photography for beginners – Titchwell Marsh

titchwell@rspb.org.uk or 01485 210779.

©  Sheila Sims 2017.    Email: sheila@norfolknaturediary.uk

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