Nature Natters (7): The Cusp of Spring

The Cusp of Spring

Les Jones March 2018

As I write, we are in the grip of a Siberian cold snap right at the end of February. This afternoon,    while perusing the newspapers in one of our local supermarkets, headlines suggested that we were all going to die because of this terrible beast from the east.  An elderly lady looking at the same tabloids mocked the fearful headlines exclaiming “But it’s winter!”  I had to laugh at her look of incredulity at all this fuss… oh how the press love a good old cold snap.

Perhaps we should spare a thought for the Siberians, who are currently carrying on with their daily lives in what, for them, are normal seasonal temperatures approaching -40 degrees.  By the way, their kids are still going to school.

Hopefully we are all able to put on a few more layers and can afford to turn up the heating a little.  Unfortunately this is not possible in the natural world.  Quite how any of our wildlife, let alone some of our tiny feathered friends that may only weigh a few grams, can actually survive these kinds of temperatures is truly amazing.  Of course the truth is, in these circumstances,  many do perish.  Having access to a regular food source and especially a supply of water, is now critical.

This winter, Bramblings (a species of finch) flying in from Scandinavia have been abundant in our area.  They feed on seeds at this time of the year and can be seen ground feeding on beech-mast, most often in the company of Chaffinches.  These will stay with us up until late March and even into April.

Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla) Photo Rob Smith.


Our Hawfinch population has been declining over recent years and it is feared they might become extinct, being down to around 1000 pairs however this winter saw a substantial influx of these large elusive finches; in Kent alone there has been a count of 700.  These birds have such powerful bills that they will split cherry stones.  It is hoped that some might stay to breed and therefore boost the numbers of our resident birds.  There have been about half a dozen over-wintering in Marbury Country Park and they may still be visible up to the middle of March.  There’s plenty more to look for at Marbury even if you miss out on the Hawfinches.

Hawfinch (Coccothraustes coccothraustes) Photo Rob Smith.

In the depths of our winter when all seems grey and lifeless, put on some warm clothes and take a walk.  Fields, hedgerows and woodland walks allow us to reconnect with nature. Have your own wildlife adventure you will slowly start to realise just how much life there is going on around us.  Show your kids that there is more to life than computer screens and mobiles.  There’s much to gain physically and spiritually from a walk around your local green space. I remember some years ago walking the Sankey Valley Way when a stoat appeared ahead of me.  It was standing on its hind legs seemingly dancing, then back onto all fours as it came nearer and nearer, repeating its dance until we were within ten feet of one another before it slowly became aware of my barely breathing, motionless body.  The stoat casually returned to all fours and stepped into the hedgerow never to be seen again.  What a wonderfully uplifting moment and a memory I treasure to this day. Time spent outdoors is not just enjoyable, it is as vital for our own wellbeing as are those same green spaces.

As spring approaches, the lack of natural wildflowers on our estates is causing young birds to starve in their nests, why not allow a portion of your lawn to grow? You’ll be amazed at the wildflowers that appear, followed by butterflies, bees and so many colourful insects and caterpillars which then become a much needed food source for your local birds and their young chicks during the breeding season.

If you have room, a small patch of nettles make great breeding plants for butterflies.  A small pond with at least one sloping side (stops wildlife accidentally drowning) will attract yet more wildlife. Want even more?  Put away the chemicals and think organic – local wildlife will love you and reward you with their presence and survive perhaps because of your actions.

How wonderful it is to hear our dawn chorus again.  This phenomenon only takes place in late winter and through spring as birds re-establish their breeding territories and pair up for the breeding season.  Birds also sing in the evening but it’s not as spectacular as in the morning.

Some early arriving birds to look out for as we near the end of March:  Wheatears drop in to feed up on any rough ground or on ploughed fields; Oystercatchers can be heard calling often after dark; equally listen out for the call of an early warbler, the Chiffchaffs and Sand Martins begin to arrive before the end of the month.

Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) Photo Dave Steel.

If this is all new to you and you are interested in getting out there, perhaps involving your kids, there are local groups you can join, organised walks with local experts or you might be interested in some voluntary work to give nature a helping hand.

Below are a few contacts and places to visit:

Risley Moss has events for your kids and there is a winter feeding station at their woodland hide.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is an internationally respected conservation group with more than one million members which includes many young members.  There is a    quarterly magazine with around 200 nature reserves for members to visit.

North Cheshire RSPB Group meet at Appleton Parish Hall.

Cheshire Wildlife Trust has been working hard for wildlife for 50 years. Discover more about the wildlife on your doorstep. See their programme of events and there are more than 40 nature reserves you can visit.

If you’re interested in volunteering your help at a local nature reserve, e mail contact:

Equally, if you would like to get more involved or just keep up with local wildlife issues and events then you can visit our new website at:


Les Jones

Warrington Nature Conservation Forum