Dear Readers, when I was growing up (not in 1875 I hasten to add) we usually got a copy of ‘Old Moore’s Almanac’ every year. Inside it was everything from the tide tables (very useful for us in Stratford, East London), the phases of the moon, predictions for the next year and all manner of other miscellanea and trivia. My grandmother, in particular, was insistent that we buy a copy – she was capable of charming warts and performing faith healing, but was also extremely superstitious (no new shoes on the table (not that we had a table), green was an unlucky colour, no lilacs in the house because they would cause the annihilation of every living creature within the walls etc etc). Old Moore’s Almanac gave us the delusion that, because it predicted the future, it somehow gave us some sort of control. Hah! If the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that the only control we have over many events is how we react to them.
But I digress, as usual.
This year, I thought that I’d look at various things related to the natural world throughout the months: things that we can get involved in, plants to look out for, animal behaviours that we might witness, and, in general, things that will link us to the cycle of the seasons. Let’s see how we get on.
Things to Do
- From 31st December to January 3rd, the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland asks if we would spend a few hours (maximum) recording plants that are in flower – this has been invaluable in tracking the earlier flowering times of many plants due to climate change. You can download the app from here . I will probably do it this year for the first time, so let’s share any experiences! Apparently you can see the results on the website as they come in, so it could be quite exciting. You can also join an organised Plant Hunt if there is one in your area (again, details on the website).
- The Great Garden Bird Watch will be from 27th to 29th January this year. What a great opportunity to watch all the rare and unusual birds disappear from your garden for the hour that you’re recording, only to return as soon as you’ve sent in your data (at least that’s usually my experience :-)). This data is useful for measuring the rise and fall of species, and as we know from my Red List posts, a lot of what we think of as common birds are actually in trouble. You can find out all about it here.
Plants for Pollinators
- My RHS magazine this week has a very helpful list of possible plants for bees for each month of the year. For January, it’s suggesting winter-flowering heather, winter aconite, Clematis cirrhosa (otherwise known as ‘Freckles’ and various other varieties), Viburnum tinus and good old fashioned hazel, as its pollen is collected by bees. At this time of year, bees will be limited to the odd honeybee and an occasional queen bumblebee, but it’s still good to have something for them to eat if they do pop out. Let me know if you’ve spotted any bee activity in this most unlikely of months
- As January progresses, you can sense a speeding-up of bird activity – at the moment the only bird regularly singing is the robin, but as the days grow longer, the thoughts of most birds will turn to reproduction, especially on milder days when the higher temperatures reinforce the message that spring is on the way. In particular, birds such as great tits, dunnocks, wrens and song thrushes will be singing before the month is over.
- The residents in the garden may well be joined by lots of visitors from Scandinavia, and the usual highly territorial squabbles may be put to one side if there’s a spell of bad weather, though not as the end of the month approaches, as blackbirds are some of the earliest birds to breed.
- It appears to be a very good year for waxwings, which have been spotted all over the east coast of the UK as they irrupt from Scandinavia, so keep your eyes peeled, they certainly seem to be heading south and west (though I note that when some waxwings turned up in East Finchley it was in April, so you might need to keep them peeled for a while :-)). They are particularly fond of berries from plants like pyracantha, so they are sometimes known as the ‘supermarket car park’ bird.
Plants in Flower
- Well, as recent studies have shown, a lot more plants are in flower in January than there were a few decades ago, but the old reliables, such as snowdrops and winter aconites should be putting in an appearance by the end of the month. There are already catkins on my hazel bushes, plus the earliest crocuses, witch hazel, sweet box, mahonia and winter clematis. There may, by some miracle, still be berries on pyracantha and cotoneaster, if the birds haven’t stripped them (see above)
Other Things to Listen/Watch Out For
- Foxes – it’s peak breeding season, and you might hear the screams of vixens and, my personal favourite, those little barks that foxes make to keep in touch with one another. There’s a fine selection of different calls here.
- This is the best time of the year for star-gazers to see Mars, which should be high in the southern sky (if you’re in the northern hemisphere) early this month. You might even be able to see that it’s red.
- Full moon will be on the 6th January, and is called the Wolf Moon or the Stay at Home Moon.
- January 9th – Plough Monday. Traditionally, this was when the farmer workers went back to the fields following the Christmas celebrations. In The Almanac, compiled by Lia Leendertz, it’s explained that during the 15th century a plough would be pulled through the streets to raise funds for the parish – this would pay for ‘parish lights’, candles that were kept burning in church to bless those working in the fields, upon whom so much of the subsequent year’s abundance would depend.
- January 22nd – Chinese New Year. This is the year of the Black Water Rabbit, and it is apparently going to be a peaceful and relaxing year for all of us, but particularly if we are Goats, Pigs or Dogs. I am a Pig (no comments please) and so the world is clearly my oyster in 2023. If you’re unsure what sign you are, and would like to check, there’s a handy calculator here (scroll down a bit :-))