Welcome to 2018! And welcome to Spring! OK, it might still be winter, but we're starting to see the early signs of spring all around. Have you spotted any yet? These few ideas might point you in the right direction.
1. Hazel catkins
The Hazel is one of the smallest native tree species in the UK, cultivated for thousands of years for both its wood and its nuts. The catkins represent the male part of the hazel's reproduction, and they appear before the leaves, hanging in yellow clusters. You'll need to be on the look out for a bushy shrub, around 8ft in height. The catkins come out in February, and are a sure sign that spring is on the way.
Even earlier than the catkins, you might find snowdrops. These delightful little plants flower between January and March, heralding the warmer days to come. There are now more than 2,500 varieties and they can be found all over the UK, although they are not native plants. They're seen most often in shaded areas, so we see lots in the woodlands. Not to be mistaken with wild garlic, they have white flowers hanging from a single stem, and light green leaves. By the way, the wild garlic another good sign!
Like snowdrops, frogspawn begins to appear in ponds from January onwards, although it's unlikely that those of us in Scotland will see any much before March. The vast majority of UK frogs are Common Frogs (Rana temporaria), although that doesn't mean that you see them everywhere. So, when you do spot the spawn, keep an eye on it to make sure it flourishes. You'll need to be on the lookout for clumps of eggs (strings will belong to a toad, rather than a frog), usually in shaded, shallow ponds. The eggs (the black dots) are surrounded by balls of clear jelly, making them nice and easy to see.
4. Nest building
Nest building is another great sign of spring, as birds all over the UK get ready to lay their eggs. Early nesters include robins, tits, blackbirds and chaffinches. Climate change is making some birds nest ahead of the weather, and some early chicks may be hatched before the insects are ready. So keep a look out for the signs - birds gathering nest building materials, like twigs, moss, and leaves - and help the birds along with feeders in your garden.
Our final tip is to look out for changes in the trees. Many are already changing colour, the stage before budburst, when the buds burst out of the seemingly-dormant branches. In the UK, this happens on a rolling basis, so if you're in the south, you'll see the buds typically three to four weeks before we do here in Scotland. Early bursters are Elder and Hawthorn, while Ash tends to be last.
There are, of course, many more signs that Spring is on the way, so keep all your senses tuned to what's happening outside. It might still be chilly out there, so use these ideas as the excuse you need to embrace the outdoors and get back down to the woods.