Eight signs of spring you may have never noticed

When was the last time you took time out of your busy schedule to notice the world changing around you? We think you will enjoy your day more if you spend just 15 minutes walking along the canal on the lookout for signs of spring.

Our ecologists work hard to make sure our canals and rivers are home to a huge variety of flora and fauna. We’ve asked them for their favourite signs of spring and they’ve come back with a wide selection of things you may have never noticed. How many can you find near you?

Coltsfoot

This is a strange plant with leaves shaped like a horse’s foot. It produces flowers before its leaves come out. You’re more likely to find it in the wetter edges along the canal towpath.

Coltsfoot courtesy of David J on Flickr Coltsfoot courtesy of David J on Flickr

Whitlow grass

Keep an eye out for this attractive plant around lock brickwork. It looks like a  miniature white carpet of flowers. It’s common but easily over-looked.

Whitlow grass courtesy of Line Sabroe on Flickr Whitlow grass courtesy of Line Sabroe on flickr

Herons

For most of the year this loner of the canals has a solitary existence but come spring they join their fellow herons to form breeding colonies in the crowns of tall trees close to water. Like many water birds they are early nesters so great opportunity to see them nest building and pair bonding before the leaves emerge and conceal the young as they fledge.

Heron stood with mouth open Heron

Returning birds

Many birds returning from warmer climates are small with big voices, especially the warblers. Their songs are often beautiful and complex and quite difficult to identify. However, one that is very distinctive is the chiff-chaff. Its name describes its song, chiff-chaff, chiff-chaff. 

Chiff Chaff courtesy of Jacob Spinks on Flickr Chiff Chaff courtesy of Jacob Spinks on flickr

Blackthorn blossom

A blackthorn winter is when we get cold weather in spring when the blackthorn is in bloom. When blackthorn is in full bloom, its pale blossoms are often matched by frost-whitened grass or snow-covered fields.

Blackthorn blossom courtesy of Richard Adams on flickr Blackthorn blossom courtesy of Richard Adams on flickr

Catkins

Many trees along the canal sprout catkins in the spring. Take a walk and see how many different types of catkin you can spot.

Catkins courtesy of Rob Mitchell on flickr Catkins courtesy of Rob Mitchell on flickr

Butterbur

This plant has pink bottle-brush flowers later to be replaced by huge umbrella leaves. Each year we get plenty of enquiries about what these strange looking plants are.

Butterbur courtesy of Paul Albertella on flickr Butterbur courtesy of Paul Albertella on flickr

Insects

Any warm sunny days through the spring may bring a variety of insects out from their winter hibernation, bumble bees and some or our larger butterflies such as red admirals and the yellow brimstone can often be seen.

Bumblebee, Courtesy of Pieter Zeeman Bumblebee, Courtesy of Pieter Zeeman

Last date edited: 15 February 2018