There have been some really crisp clear days so far this month – perfect for wildlife watching. This blog is all about some of the wonderful wildlife you can see around Scotland in February.
What to see in Scotland this month II
When I was little my favourite creature to spot any time I was outdoors was a ladybird. One of my neighbours used to have a huge hedge all the way around her garden and me and a couple of friends would wedge ourselves in between the branches looking for these beautiful beetles, before collecting them up to count their spots and waiting for them to fly away off the ends of our fingers.
Seven spotted ladybird, Sebastian Knight.
There were never as many to see there in winter though, and I later learned that the low temperatures in Scotland at this time of year make ladybirds inactive. Many will tuck themselves away to avoid the cold, so you may spot several huddled together in the cracks of tree trunks or the corners of your garden shed - some even use window frames for shelter and may just invite themselves inside if given the chance.
There’s a common myth about ladybirds that the number of spots on their back indicates their age, and as I’m writing this I think my mum might have told me that when I was young. But their bright colouring and pattern is actually for protection - it basically warns predators that they don’t taste nice. Any species which eats one is unlikely to want to go back for seconds and the spots serve as a helpful reminder.
Waxing feeding in hedge of Wild privet, Andy Hay
Another couple of species you may want to look out for this month are snow bunting and waxwing. Both of these birds are winter visitors in the main, though there is a small number of resident snow bunting here. Waxwings will be around for a few months yet and normally stick to the east of the country.
These stocky little birds are pretty acrobatic when it comes to feeding and are able to catch flying insects. They’ll visit any habitat that provides them with food and are known to turn up in parks, gardens, and relatively busy public places - especially if there are berry-bearing bushes to snack on!
Snow bunting, Scottish Natural Heritage
The snow bunting is the most northerly-breeding of any land bird on earth, in some places living very close to Inuit settlements. In February look out for them on the seashore feeding along the strand-line, or on rough grassland near the coast. During the winter months there can be up to 12,500 snow buntings in Scotland, arriving here from Iceland, Greenland, and Scandanavia.
Scarlet Elfcup, www.first-nature.com
For those of you who scour the forest floor when out and about – bear in mind a fungus known as the Scarlet Elfcup. Though with its fantastically vibrant red colouring it’s quite hard to miss. This is a winter species that appears on dead sticks and branches, often buried in leaf litter and moss. You’ll usually be able to see them until early spring and they’re more common in the west of Scotland where it’s wetter.
The Scarlet Elfcup makes a tiny puffing sound when it releases its spores into the air and if you pick some of these you’ll feel the outside of the cup is covered in an almost matted coating of tiny hairs.
Happy wildlife watching and we’ll be back with another ‘what to see’ blog in March!