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JANUARY AND FEBRUARY IN CUMBRIA

January and February are typically the coldest months, with snow and ice often lying in many parts of the county, so the main interest of the month has to lie with birds. Garden feeders are increasingly attracting unusual species, as more and more people supply food for birds. Cold weather can bring Goldcrest (on bread), Nuthatch and Siskin (on peanuts), Goldfinch (on Niger seed), and small flocks of Long-tailed Tit (on peanuts and balls of fat and seed). The latter are restless and move from garden to garden, but often returning day after day. Even Robins are learning to use feeders (especially if access from a tree is available) and their antics can be comical to watch. As Robins will now be holding territory only one (or a pair) is likely in a garden.

If the weather is very harsh to the east and in Europe, Brambling may turn up in good numbers, otherwise only odd ones are likely and may be missed. In most years eruptions of Waxwings into Cumbria occur, sometimes only a few but occasionally flocks of upto 200 arenoted. Watch the hedgerows for this berry eater.

Around the estuaries of Morecambe Bay and the Solway this is a good time to see winteringGoldeneye wildfowl and geese. A small flock of Brent Geese (usually upto 50) can be found in Morecambe Bay off Foulney and Rampside, as can large numbers of Wigeon. By February it is not uncommon to see flocks of 500 Golden Plover, especially if frost drives then to seek food in the estuary. The Duddon and Solway estuaries hold Pink-footed Geese, the Leven estuary off Greenodd and Ulverston will often have Goldeneye (as do Derwentwater and Bassenthwaite) and Pintail float on an incoming tide in the Leven and Kent estuaries. The Solway is the place to see Barnacle Geese and Scaup at this time.

Numbers of Purple Sandpiper off Walney (from Biggar Bank to North Walney) and Workington are often their best this month, and South Walney is likely to have one or two visiting Merlin. The Duddon Estuary off Roanhead is a good place to find Sanderling, Bar-tailed Godwit and Grey Plover, while the two latter species are regular on the Solway.

Along our rivers and streams, Dippers will begin defending their breeding territories by the end of February. Birds fly rapidly up and downstream between the limits of their "patch", often returning to their favourite rock perch - look for the white stain of droppings. Its trilling song resembles that of a wren and can be heard even above the noise of tumbling water. Watch carefully and you may see it walk upstream under water searching for food!

January is the start of the breeding season for Tawny and Barn Owls, as the males begin to establish territory. In parks and gardens the "ke-wik" contact call of the male Tawny owl can be heard through the night, with perhaps an answering "huuu". It is an atmospheric sound, but not too welcome when one is perched on your TV aerial at 4 a.m.!!  Even more piercing is the spine-chilling screech of the Barn Owl, which is often seen hunting during the day at this time of year (especially in the twilight). Its screech is a sure sign that territory is being chosen. January and February are also good months for seeing Short-eared Owls in coastal ares like Walney and the Duddon mosses.

Cold and frosty weather this month can provide the opportunity to see mammals. For example, Weasels normally hunt by night, but are quite likely to be seen this month during daylight hours. They might even stand on their hind legs and watch you suspiciously!

Mating FrogsBy February Frogs and Toads will be looking for mates if the weather is mild. Frogs can be very variable in colouring.

By February it should be possible to find Alder and Hazel catkins and the odd flower of Lesser Celandine - a welcome sign that spring is not too far away. In towns, where it is generally warmer, the Herald moth may be tempted out of hibernation in buildings, although in the country it may wait a little longer to give its Sallow foodplant time to flower. On really warm days butterflies like Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock may be tempted out of hibernation, now looking rather worn.

This is a good month to improve your knowledge of trees and buds. Buds can be beautiful to examine as they are primed ready to burst and come in a range of "designer shades" - the silver of Sallow, the black of Ash, the crimson of Lime, the purple of Alder etc. Each species has chemicals that keep the bud dormant. Cold breaks these down at different rates, so different species come into leaf at different times. The wary Ash is usually last to emerge, when all risk of frost should have passed.