Winter always feels like a quiet time in Nature but, in reality, it's just that she requires you to have a little patience, listen a little harder for the birds and look a little closer at the trees and hedges.
On one of those gloriously bright but cold January mornings, I decide to go for a wander around Railway Fields, looking for signs of Spring.
As I arrive a wren, caught out by my sudden appearance, flies across my path and into the safety of the ivy but, apart from that, I see very little birdlife. Blackbirds emerge briefly from hedges, blue tits call in the trees by the New River and I can hear the clamour of house sparrows in their favoured hedge in the farthest corner - one male emerges to perch just above my head. For all the noise and occasional appearances, the birds, for now, seem to be mainly keeping to the undergrowth and the thickets.
At my feet, just where I've been listening to sparrows, winter heliotrope is flowering but it's still too early for most flowers. It is to the trees we need to look to see our earliest signs that Spring is coming, in particular the hazel, alder and silver birch each of which has catkins.
The hazel's acid yellow male catkins are everywhere, look a little closer and you'll also spot the tiny red female flowers bursting from the branches. No less bright, the pink catkins of the alder, yet to open fully to reveal their yellow insides. On the Railway path, the luminous silver birches, still leafless, have sprouted red and gold catkins.
Peer even more closely at the trees and you'll spot buds: pinky green alder; purple-red chestnut; bright red oak
For all these encouraging signs, its clear that Winter still has its grip on Nature. Shapely, empty seed heads of the teasel; the fluffy white of old man's beard adorning hedges; ash trees still clinging to their keys and desiccating fruits, ivy bushes thick with berries; empty galls withering on oak trees, the canopy leafless against a brilliant blue sky
Yet these bare branches offer us a chance to look closely at the wonderful intricate micro worlds of lichens ( don't ask me to name them - I wouldn't know where to start) which colonise the crevices of veteran trees. Bright greens, classy greys, lurid yellows. If you're lucky enough to have a macro lens, tiny forests reveal themselves.
If you want to go and search for signs of Spring yourself, Railway Fields is open this Saturday when Friends of Railway Fields welcome anyone interested in practical conservation to pop along from 10am-12.30 to help maintain the habitats at Railway Fields. Guidance, hot drinks & tools provided. Join in for as long or short as you wish - beats going to the gym!
At 11.30am-12.30 Big Garden Birdwatch - You are invited to take part in the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch – the world’s biggest wildlife survey! Find out more here
Again everyone is welcome to join in. Hope you have better luck birding than I did!
11am-12.30 Family Wildlife Arts is aimed at primary school age children but open to all. It's drop in, free and takes place whatever the weather. This month, it’s bird-themed!
And, of course, you're free to just come in and discover the site at your own pace. The site will be open until 2pm.
Railway Fields is a nature reserve and home to TCV Haringey.
It is open Mon-Fri from 9am to dusk (although sometimes the site may close if there are weather conditions that are hazardous to the public like high winds, or staff illness)
Thanks for writing this beautiful guidance, Liz! Family Wildlife Art big success yesterday, 10 children and their parents constructed birds nests and learned more about the building skills of birds. Others did the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch sitting by the back meadow with a flask of tea: we saw 9 species, mostly in twos (Valentine's day coming soon!): Sparrow, blackbird, blue tit, great tit, goldfinch, magpie, wood pigeon, starling and crow.
The parakeets must have been on an outing then - overlooking Railway Fields I've seen/heard them every day for a few weeks now (whinge no, observation yes).
Fabulous for a novice like me and great encouragement to get out there.