Discover the Dee

DeeWatch February 2020

Welcome to the February edition of DeeWatch, a month-by-month guide to nature-spotting across our diverse and beautiful catchment. Brought to you by the rangers who take care of Deeside’s nature reserves, our DeeWatch diary includes sightings from the field as well as suggestions on what to look out for at any given time of year.

In February…

Wrap up, get out there and enjoy the transition! From longer days to blooming buds, there are plenty of signs that Spring is on the way – and remember you can find out more on the Aberdeenshire Council Rangers’ Facebook page, and even make a valuable contribution to our wildlife records at this website
Look out and listen for:

Birds

Birds are getting noisier this month – look out for starlings, bullfinches and tree creepers, and listen out for the great tit’s ‘teacher, teacher, teacher’ call, and the minor key of the mistle thrush song. The mistle thrush is widespread throughout the catchment- look right at the tops oftreesor on power lines. February is also a good time to hear Great Spotted Woodpeckers drumming – they drum to attract a mate but also to defend their territories. Hearing them is easy– spotting them can betrickier!

Mistle thrush - Catriona Reid

Crossbills are early nesters so listen out for their 'chip, chip, chip’ call in pinewoods, around Dinnet, Glen Tanar and Scolty. They can behard to spot, often feeding on conifer seeds high up in the trees. Look out for the characteristic shape of their bill - designed for getting into tough pinecones.

Crossbill - Toni Watt

In lower stretches of the Dee where water is slow moving, you maybe lucky enough tocatch sight of a kingfisher. Look out for the telltaleflash of bright turquoise,and maybe a streak of orange plumage speeding along the river, and listen for the shrill ‘cheee’ whistle. There isonly one species of kingfisher in the UK, and they are rare in north-east Scotland. Feeding on small fish and aquatic insects, they perch on branches overhanging slow or still stretches of the Dee and its tributaries. 

Kingfisher - Toni Watt

Still lower in the catchment, look out for Oystercatchers returning inland to breed, appropriately round about Valentine's Day! Depending on the weather, you may hear their piping calls from rooftops.

Oystercatchers - Toni Watt

Butterflies, moths & insects

February is still a quiet month for moths, but Dotted Borders are emerging now - the male has a string of dots along the border of his forewings. The female is flightless, like various other moth species that breed in winter as mentioned in previous months: https://www.ukmoths.org.uk/species/agriopis-marginaria/female/

Dotter Border moth - Helen Rowe

On mild, sunny days, you may see some overwintering butterflies make an early appearance - Small Tortoise shells are often the first to stir, but will usually go back to dormancy in cool, sheltered, dark places until spring properly arrives.

By the river, keep your eyes peeled for this fellow too – the Northern February Red Stonefly, particularly special as it’s found nowhere else in the world outside the UK. Their young live in rivers. You can even take part in this citizen science survey: https://cdn.legacy.buglife.org.uk/sites/default/files/StoneflySurvey.pdf          

Larger animals

Higher in the catchment, and especially on a sunny day, you might catch sight ofan adder as they wake from their winter hibernation. Frogs and toads will begin to make their way to ponds this month to lay their spawn depending on the weather – look out for them near ponds or water. Frogs are a bit earlier than toads, and toads lay in double strings rather than a single blob of spawn as frogs do.  Be careful where you tread while on patches near water, to avoid squashing anything!

Adder - Catriona Reid

Badgers are being born this month, though you won’t see them as the cubs don’t leave their setts for a few more months. In the garden look out for mice under bird feeders, taking advantage of any spilled food.

Mouse - Catriona Reid

Trees, flowers, fruits and fungi

Willow catkins just keep on coming, especially in mild weather – these are a great early source of nectar for bees. Look out for snowdrops especially on riverbanks, and make sure you get close enough to enjoy their honey scent! Later in the month, the first crocuses will appear – contrary to popular belief these are not a native species, but they too provide the first pollinators of the year with some much-needed pollen and nectar. Also look out for the yellow flowers of winter aconite – also not-native but a colourful reminder that Spring is on its way.

Aconite - Ewen Cameron

Tree blossom is another important food source in the coming months – already present on stretches of the Deeside Way. While trees are still leafless it’s a good time to see fungi such as birch bracket or hoof fungus, traditionally used for fire lighting.

Birch bracket - Catriona Reid

Winter is a good time to examine the dead trees in our woods – if you look closely you’ll often see small holes in dead wood.  About 1-2mm in diameter, they could be the holes made by insects like female wood wasps, when they lay their eggs deep in the branch. As the eggs change into grubs, woodpeckers will dig them out to eat or feed to their young.  

Wood holes - Ewen Cameron

On the River

Look out for a kingfisher zipping by, a stonefly hovering nearby or some snowdrops on the riverbanks!

What’s on?

National Nest Box Week runs from 14th February every year, bringing a welcome focus on nesting birds and encouraging people to put up nest boxes to help them. Local events include:

  • Friday 14th February, 2-4pm, Banchory Library, and Wednesday 19th February, 2-4pm, Alford Library: Bird Box event with Helen Rowe. Kits cost £6.50 (please bring money on the day). There will be four types of kit available - three with different front hole sizes & open-fronted, to suit a variety of species.

And finally: a note on climate change…

We can count on February bringing longer days at last, but climate change has made it much harder to predict typical temperatures - last February a high of 18C was recorded in the catchment, and Scotland was hotter than Egypt. This of course has consequences for wildlife – while some plants emerge in response to daylight rather than temperature, others begin growing when the soil is warm enough, so a ‘hot’ February may make them ‘think’ it’s April or May. This in turn confuses the insects that rely on them for pollen and nectar, and then farmers - who need their food crops pollinated by insects - feel the effects, while gardeners’ fruit and vegetable crops also suffer. Climate change is a very real problem for all of us.