Spot the early signs of spring on Bookham Commons
The mixed habitats of Bookham Commons - grassland, woodland and water – attract many different species signalling that spring is on its way.
As the light level rises, walking through the trees at Bookham Commons reveals a treasure trove of opportunities. “Flick” a hazel catkin and watch clouds of pollen drift away, or look closer to try and find the small, red female flowers at the tips of some of the hazel buds… they look like miniature sea anemones.
Wildflowers such as wood anemones and bluebells will reach up into the sunshine before the tree canopy shuts out the light. In the damp areas sniff the air and see if you can identify wild garlic. Look along the ground to spot violets and primroses in the areas of coppiced hazel, and maybe an early snowdrop pushing up through soil and leaf litter. As the days get warmer blossom will appear on brambles and hawthorn.
Among the trees, look out for the exquisite goldcrests and firecrests along Commonside, on the east side. Bird activity will increase from February onwards as the annual mating cycle gets going. Listen for woodpeckers drumming and the fine singing of blackcap, wrens and song thrush. Fingers crossed, we hope for the return of the nightingales in May. Other summer visitors such as chiffchaff, wood warbler and willow warbler will be adding their song to the medley.
The dappled sunlight also attracts early butterflies such as brimstone, peacock and comma.
Lots of interesting wild ducks are gathering on the main ponds: teal, gadwall, shoveler and tufted duck, plus coots, moorhen and little grebe (aka “dabchick”)… or the elusive water rail, that “skulks” amongst the reeds. Bring your binoculars and watch from the bird hide on Upper Eastern Pond.
The herons have started pairing-up and nest-building near the main (“Isle of Wight”) pond – listen for lots of croaking and squawking “primeval” noises as these modern-day pterodactyls circle the tall oaks to the north of this pond.
Peer into the water and see if you can see frogspawn or signs of toads mating. Newts and nymphs will also emerge from their winter torpor and become active. If you are lucky you may also spot the rare water-loving Daubenton’s bat hunting for food at dusk.
The London clay of Bookham Commons will take a while to warm up so wildflowers may appear later here. However, do look out for plants such as cowslips, ribwort plantains and the cheery celandines.
The hedgerows provide great cover for small mammals such as hedgehogs and dormice coming out of hibernation. Weasles, voles and shrews will also be scuttling around searching for food. Bees are beginning to appear in sheltered areas.
Hawfinches have been spotted at Bookham Commons in some years and there may still be some around on the grassland plains. They have a distinctive heavy and powerful bill for cracking seeds and nuts, with an orange brown head and a white patch on their wings. Can you spot green woodpeckers digging in the grass for ants? Flocks of blue, great and the social long-tail tits will be hopping between perches, before the summer visitors such whitethroat and garden warbler arrive.
Watch for the wild roe deer in any of the quieter areas (but please keep a close eye on your dog… (as much for the good of you and your dog, as well as the deer!)