Frogspawn in Fingle woods is another signal that winter is drawing to an end. But, is it early and what will happen when, or if, there is a cold snap?
Data from Nature’s Calendar (a citizen science project run by the Woodland Trust and the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology) shows frogspawn was 11 days earlier last year than the 2001 benchmark year and judging by sightings in Fingle, it looks like it’s early again!
The characteristic semolina like jelly of frogspawn is laid in shaded, shallow ponds, surrounded by plants, so Ross Meadow is an ideal nursery. Two to three years old, the common frogs have returned to the pond they were born in and each female has laid around 1,000 eggs. As the eggs mature, they swell and float to the surface, but only around one in 50 survive because of predators and frost.
Frogspawn in Ross Meadow Photo credit: Tom Williams Frogs return to the pond they were born in to spawn
The changes in their lifecycle linked frogs to fertility and creativity in ancient Egypt. During the Middle Ages however, the church linked them to the devil, based on the second Biblical plague of Egypt. Perhaps that’s why in fairy tales they are ugly until the beauty inside, is released by a kiss.
Frogs, like the newts who feed on their tadpoles are ectotherms and most of their heat comes from external sources. Nature’s Calendar data is being used to research the impact of earlier breeding on frogspawn success rates, as well as increased tadpole predation by newts, which were first seen in February last year, 15 days earlier than the benchmark year.
Early pollinators on the move
With their distinctive yellow and black stripes, nipped in waists and triangular heads, common wasps don’t win popularity contests. But does their ability to sting when in danger justify their bad press? At the top of the food chain, wasps are important pollinators and keep the insect ecosystem in balance by eating aphids, spiders and centipedes.
Another insect queen emerging from hibernation is the red-tailed bumblebee, whose distinctive red tail can cover up to half her abdomen. Like the wasp, her mission is to build a nest, so she can lay eggs. You’ll be able to see them on the edge of woods, as well as in hedgerows, nesting under stones or by walls. Known in middle English as a humbul-be, the bumblebee is linked to wisdom in Celtic mythology, and is a messenger between the human and spirit worlds.
Two more early pollinators are the peacock and small tortoiseshell, whose change from caterpillar to butterfly, symbolises creativity and transformation.
While the incredible eye patterns of peacock butterflies make them easily recognisable to us, they evolved to confuse predators. If threatened, they have another deterrent, they can make themselves sound large and dangerous, by rubbing the veins on their fore and hindwings together to make a hissing sound
The small tortoiseshell butterfly feeding The startling eye patterns of the peacock butterfly evolved to confuse predators
Last year on average, all insects were first seen 23 days earlier than the 2001 benchmark, and a research project is investigating whether butterflies and the red-tailed bumblebee are emerging from their diapause (dormancy period) earlier due to changes in seasonal temperature over the last 50 years.
One of the flowers early pollinators will be heading for is bright yellow coltsfoot, which is named after the waxy ‘hoof shaped’ leaves which appear after the flowers have finished. Records sent in by volunteers show that coltsfoot is starting to flower later, which isn’t what scientists expected and may indicate that it’s becoming less widespread across the country. Used as a traditional cough treatment, it is also called coughwort and contains tannins that are anti-inflammatory.
Coltsfoot flowers appear before the leaves Small Tortoiseshell on Blackthorn blossom. Photo: WTML
The red-tailed bumblebee and small tortoiseshell will also be heading for blackthorn. Last year blackthorns started flowering 27 days earlier than the benchmark year and provided valuable food and shelter for caterpillars and birds throughout the year.
What else can you look out for?
You can already hear and see the increased bird activity in Fingle and two familiar birds, the blackbird and the blue tit start nest building this month. Both started earlier last year, the blackbird by 11 days and the blue tit by eight compared to the benchmark year. Will that be repeated in 2020?
Blue tit on the look out for food or a nesting site Blackbirds start nesting in February
You’ll also be able to see the woods start to green up as the elder leaves appear, and hawthorn comes into budburst and first leaf. Last year they both came into leaf two weeks earlier than the benchmark year, and you can click on the link to watch the hawthorn budburst. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DctcWmieJZ4
Do you have some time to record what you see in February? You can find out more about current research, how to start recording and what’s been seen this year on the Nature’s Calendar website.
By Jane Halliday
For more information on Fingle please visit https://finglewoods.org.uk/