Blue tits are in pairs and singing or calling excitedly and woods are starting to ring out with the calls and songs of great tits. Wild daffodils are already bursting through, and with snowdrops still out, are unseasonably early. This has been a good year for crocuses too, and early bees and hoverflies are taking full advantage.
Male pheasants are in territorial mood as they establish their breeding patch and search out mates. Less competitive males are picked on and pushed around and may end up in marginal habitats such as gardens. If they cannot escape the aggression of dominant males, then they can end up in very poor condition and may even die.
However, adventurous males and those in search of easy pickings are also turning up in gardens, mostly, like that photographed by Ray Sykes at Todwick, on the edge of countryside.
Also in gardens, woodland rides and lane-sides, early butterflies are out and about in the bright sunshine.
Peacocks are being recorded across the area but watch out too for small tortoiseshells and even the magnificent brimstone.
The latter is a bright, sulphurous yellow and found mainly to the south-east of the region. I wonder too, whether 2014 will be a ‘holly blue year’.
Out of hibernation, common frogs are active and moving to traditional breeding sites such as ponds. So far, though, I have not seen any frogspawn, but I am sure there will be some ponds already brimming. Let me know if you have had either or both frogs and common toads.
Take care on roads close to breeding ponds, as the animals are vulnerable to motorcars.
Another animal, for which the main causes of accidental death are cars, is the badger.
I have noticed that the annual carnage has begun again on the Dronfield By-pass.
Keith Kitching and his wife Christine told me about a well-grown, adult badger killedwhere Holmesfield Road, Carr Lane, and Cowley Lane meet, again, near Dronfield.
On a more positive note, water rail and bittern have both been seen at the old Pithouse West site, the extension to Rother Valley Country Park.
Chiffchaffs have been heard singing at Canklow Woods and at the General Cemetery in Sharrow.
They are not back yet in my local wood at Norton.
n SIGHTINGS: Watch out for kingfishers on suitable breeding streams like one seen recently on the Whiston Brook at Blue Man’s Bower. After a mild winter, the numbers should be quite high. Urban watercourses are getting good for birdlife such as 20 tufted ducks, 20 mallards, and 40-50 black-headed gulls at Parkgate Canal Basin, Rotherham. Grey herons are also being seen on ponds, lakes and rivers over a wide area. Both Canada geese and grey lag geese are abundant at many suitable sites. At Thrybergh Country Park, a long-eared owl was pursued by mobbing carrion crows. Then, at nearby Ulley Brook Bog, there were six reed buntings, males and females, feeding on reed heads.