FLOODS, snow and sub-zero temperatures all helped to make February a month of contrasts in the Chilterns, but a welcome flurry of warmer days finally helped to herald the first true signs of spring.
With the country still in lockdown and wintry walks the only escape for many, footpaths that were not totally submerged soon became muddy quadmires.
But with tree branches bare and vegetation withered, it’s a good time of year to pick out birds as the dawn chorus begins to pick up volume – and equally good for that infuriating task of litter picking before the foliage really begins its resurgence.
As the first flowers poke through the soil crust, weekend wanderers are on the lookout for snowdrop displays and on crisper mornings there are some spectacular sunrises to capture, perhaps made all the more dramatic thanks to sand storms in the Sahara.
Photographers across the Chilterns were up with the lark, the woods echoing to the rat-a-tat of wookpeckers and whistling of red kites, the mornings getting brighter after Candlemas Day and the dull greys and browns of winter beginning to be offset with hazel catkins twitching like lambs’ tails, and even the odd crocus or daffodil.
Ducks and wildfowl may have been enjoying the wet weather but as the big freeze arrived, the number of birds on the feeders dramatically increased and hungry badgers and foxes also got a little braver in their search for an easy snack.
Over on the heathland at Stoke Common, the gorse has begun to provide a profuse and colourful backdrop of yellow flowers (recalling those glorious foraging recipes of Rachel Lambert), but elsewhere colours are still muted, at least until the last few days of the month.
February is the shortest month, when hibernation is coming to an end and spring slowly starts to assert itself as insects start to emerge from their slumbers and the early shoots of crocuses and daffodils spring up to join the snowdrops.
Young bees are spiralling around on orientation flights, while older bees are busy bringing in the nectar, their legs pleasantly dusted with pollen.
Other insects, birds and mammals are active too, and our Picture of the Week has reflected the skills of a couple of local Beyonder stalwarts, Nick Bell and Graham Parkinson, whose photographs have brought so much variety to the website in recent months.
From curious crows to grazing deer and rasping stonechats, the pictures help to bring local wildlife a little closer to us all, while the broader range of visitors to garden feeders provides another opportunity to study colourful plumage in more detail.
Take a deep breath and head off to the woods to revive body and soul: without their summer coats, the trees are a study in themselves, fluffy lichen and moss coating the bark and new growth beginning to bud and bulge everywhere.
On dreary days the landscape may appear dull and bleak, but what an extraordinary rainbow of colours are out there for those prepared to get up early and venture off the beaten track, or wait patiently for the light to be just right.
Those noisy birds are getting their breeding plumage and nest building will soon start in earnest. For anyone tempted by the prospect of nettle soup, tea or even beer, now’s the time they are said to be at their best: young, tender and ripe for the picking.
Dandelions are a vital source of nectar for bees and early insects out of hibernation, while daffodils are starting to provide that dramatic show of colour, “fluttering and dancing in the breeze” as Wordsworth put it.
Butterfly fans might even spot their first yellow brimstone, one of the first to fly in the spring, stealing a march on other species by over-wintering as an adult, often perfectly camouflaged among clusters of ivy leaves.
Almost a year after the first dramatic lockdown, it’s been a tough time for many and we’re not out of the woods yet. But nature has a way of keeping our spirits high – and thanks to our snap-happy band of explorers, we’re delighted to be able to share so many uplifting images of the glorious Chilterns landscape.
As always, we’d like to give a very big thank you to all the keen local photographers who have allowed us to use their work this month. If you would like to contribute any pictures, favourite moments or seasonal suggestions to our calendar entry for March, contact firstname.lastname@example.org on email or via our Facebook group page.