Spot the early signs of spring
The days are getting warmer and hopefully you’re getting some of that ‘spring-is-in-the-air’ feeling. With its variety of habitats, Headley Heath supports a wide range of wildlife to be discovered. Why not take the opportunity to seek out nature’s confirmation that spring is indeed on its way?
Check out our trails online or pick up a leaflet at the information board and head into the sunshine.
The wide-open space of Purley Plain is classic heathland, dominated by gorse and heather. The yellow flowers of the gorse will be coming through from January – can you smell the coconut scent?
Listen out for the birds. Heathland attracts a wide variety and this is the time when birdsong is at its height as pairs build nests and begin to mate. Popular resident birds such as wren, song and mistle thrushes, chaffinches and robins will be in full song establishing territories. Can you also identify less well-known species such as the glorious pink-breasted bullfinch and blackcap? From March onwards the summer migrants such as chiff chaff, willow warbler and whitethroat will begin to arrive.
As the soil warms up the reptiles will begin to stir – the common lizard, grass snakes and adders (all largely harmless). Keep a watch for early butterflies on the heathland – pale green brimstones, the green hairstreak, and the golden brown small copper. The brightly coloured red admirals and peacocks are among the first butterflies out, warming themselves in sheltered pots from March. Also look out for some less common butterflies, such as grizzled skipper, dingy skipper and green hairstreak on sunny days from April. You might be lucky.
Around the edge of the plain, there are several ponds - Brimmer, Apsen, Bellamoss and Brown. As the water warms see if you can spot emerging amphibians – newts (great-crested, palmate and smooth species), toads, frogs and their spawn. We have created fences around the ponds to protect the amphibians from disturbance. Our ecological surveys have shown that this is proving beneficial for the wildlife.
If you follow the paths beyond the Pyramids, you’ll find Chalk Slope, Chalk Spur and the Sixth Valley. Keep an eye open to spot the early wildflowers that make chalk grassland so unique. Look out for yellow cowslips, the early purple orchid and the deep blue chalk milkwort. The grazing belted Galloway cattle keep the grass short to enable rare flowers to thrive, making this a haven for butterflies.
Today much of Headley Heath is covered in trees and the woodland can also be a magical place in spring as sunlight filters through the branches.
Stroll through the trees and you’ll notice the yellow catkins of hazel, which can emerge as early as January. If you look very closely you’ll also spot the tiny red female flowers. Silver birch and goat willow (or pussy willow) are other trees that produce lovely catkins.
Check out the buds of the trees around you. Beech buds are slim and pointy. Ash trees have buds that have been described as looking like a bunch of grapes. Lime trees have delicate buds and as the sun gets warmer then the buds will break to reveal lovely bright green leaves.
Again birds will be active. Keep an eye open for nuthatches facing down the trunks, and treecreepers circling upwards. Keep you ears open to catch the drumming of a spotted woodpecker or the yaffle of a green woodpecker. Jays and various tits will be flitting through the branches.
Don’t overlook the undergrowth. Peacock and comma butterflies like nettles and the small tortoiseshell can be seen on brambles. If you are around at dusk, you may hear the rustlings of roe deer or badgers.
Headley Heath’s varied landscapes and rich habitats offer a treasure trove of wildlife. Why not make this year a time for you to learn more?