The month of January is named after the Roman god Janus, who is the two faced god of the doorway. The faces look to the past old year and to the future new year. As a Warden; a person in an outdoor profession, the two faces of Janus mean two types of winter weather – mild and wet or cold and dry!
January is often termed the ‘cruellest month’, and no festivities or Bank Holidays to bring light relief during the month.
Although the days have been lengthening since the 22nd December, the natural world has short day lengths and the food supply is short in January.
If we are to have snow this year, then it will most likely to fall and stay in January.
With all the extra food and leisure encountered in the festive season, Lydiard Park is the perfect place to go for a walk and build further appetite for remaining festive faire, or just clear that hangover!
But whatever the reason for getting outdoors, there is plenty to observe, even in a dormant season, as regards vegetation, bird and animal life. However, the year in the natural world is a continuously turning wheel of seasons, and January favours our avian friends, who decide that the U.K. is the place to escape the harsher weather to the North of us. Redwings, waxwings and fieldfares feast on our hedgerow berries, and stonechats on the farmland can be seen, both who have moved in from harsher environments. Interestingly, at our sister park, Coate Water Country Park there has been sightings of the rare Berwick’s Swan
Many animals are in hibernation at this time of the year. Amphibians, such as toads, newts and frogs are soundly asleep currently. Animals such as badgers and hedgehogs can break their hibernation to forage for food during mild spells. We have spotted areas of ground disturbed by badgers in cold weather, whilst they search for worms in the soil.
Despite the seasons being a constantly moving circle, it is easy to think that the trees stand still. However, the hazel is all ready with its catkins hanging yellow against the reddish brown of the branches. In sheltered areas these catkins are shedding male pollen already. This time of year sees lichens and ferns thriving – try the St Mary’s churchyard and the North side of the dam wall.
On the ground we now have the famous Lydiard display of snowdrops (Galanthus) just showing their tips that precede the first white blooms. Snowdrops are equipped with thickened armoured tips at the end of its leaves, to allow them to push through a frozen ground. Arum lilies (cuckoo pint) are also starting to show their pioneering leaves. Also if January turns out mild, a few lesser celandines will be showing their golden yellow blooms soon.
At the start of the month the only common birdsong is the robin, however, later in the month the song thrush starts to declare its territory, as will the blackbird and great tits. Also listen out for the greater spotted woodpecker activities, loudly sounding through the woods.
Finally look out for courtship races amongst the Park’s grey squirrels. The female encourages a chase where keen males pursue the female. Only the fittest males can keep up and be shown to be eligible mates. This is fun to watch.
We hope everybody reading this had a Merry Christmas and we wish you all a Happy New Year.
Mark Eborn, Lydiard Park Warden