As animals end their hibernation there’s much to see at Highwoods

A Brimstone butterfly by David Barrett
A Brimstone butterfly by David Barrett

The mild winter continues and mammals are emerging from hibernation.

Hedgehogs and bats went into hibernation having doubled their body weight which has helped see them through the winter.

However they are now at risk because if we get a cold snap, they will have to go back into hibernation without any fat reserves to help them to survive. We often get a cold period once the blackthorn is fully out, hence ‘Blackthorn Winter’. The only other mammals that truly hibernate are dormice.

We have yet to confirm their presence but they are the lazybones of the natural world because they will not emerge until mid to late April.

Insects including butterfiles are less affected because they are cold-blooded and can go back into a kind of torpor. Reptiles are similar and won’t be at risk too much because they are also cold-blooded.

Many birds are thinking about nesting, indeed some have done so already, eggs being found in early February. Some members of the Thrush family may have young before the end of the month. March heralds the arrival of our first summer migrant birds.

The Chiff Chaff is the earliest, anytime from the beginning of the month.

This is a very small warbler (about the size of a blue tit), and it is difficult to believe that such a small creature could have flown the thousands of miles from southern Africa.

It is a dull yellowy green and is difficult to see until it opens its mouth, then it lets you know where its name came from with its monotonous “Chiff-Chaff”.

Another early migrant is the Chiff-Chaff’s close cousin, which arrives two or three weeks later. This is the Willow Warbler, and visually almost impossible to tell apart. Again its song identifies the Willow Warbler with its lovely falling trill.

Swallows and House Martins may be seen swooping over the woods towards the last days of the month. As the weather warms up insects come out of hibernation.

Insects require the ambient temperature to be above 8/10 degrees Celsius in order for it to be warm enough for them to fly.

Look out for Brimstone Butterflies, unmistakable, with the male being a bright yellow and the females much paler.

The Brimstone is one of the first butterflies to be seen having over wintered in adult form.

It is thought that the Brimstone is responsible for the name butterfly.

Reptiles will be emerging from hibernation during March and on sunny days look out for Common Lizards and Adders.

This is a good time to see reptiles as being cold blooded they need to warm up for the activities of life. With the sun not having much warmth to it, it takes reptiles longer to warm up and so they are more visible than in the warmer times of the year. One of the best spots to see reptiles is the heath area in the north west of the woods. On Saturday March 20th there is a guided walk at 10.30am – Has Spring sprung? A walk to see the signs of spring. Lasts about I½ hours.