January can feel like the perfect time to hibernate - those dark evenings are great for cosy nights in! However it also is a fascinating time outdoors. If you're thinking of beginning a new hobby in nature this year - January is the perfect time to start!
Start a nature journal
Why not start a nature journal and write down what you see and hear? The Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland run a January plant hunt that is open to everyone. Those taking part must count - but not collect - as many wildflowers as possible during a period of up to three hours. The results can then be uploaded to the Society's website at bsbi.org. This year, the closing date to upload is January 9th. Even if you miss this year's hunt, why not still go ahead? Identify and record wildflowers in your garden or local parks and woods to learn more about nature in your own locality.
Dark January mornings can be an exciting time for spotting wildlife. Even if you are not lucky enough to see an animal or bird, you might hear one instead if you listen hard.Owls become very noisy at this time of year - you might catch sight of a barn owl flying past you on your way to work or school. Foxes and badgers are busy at this time of the year too - they have to work hard to find food to keep them alive through the cold winter. It is almost the breeding season for red squirrels, although they tend to stay high up in trees and so are less visible than the more common grey squirrel. Resouces like 'My First Book of Irish Animals', by Juanita Browne, is great for introducing younger children to the wonderful world of Irish wildlife.
Look out for signs of new life
If you go out into the garden, the park or the woods near where you live, you will see signs of new life everywhere, even on the darkest day of January!
Plants commonly in bloom in January include dandelion, groundsel, shepherd's purse, chickweed and purple dead-nettle. Snowdrops are already in bloom by now. Even though they look so delicate, they are strong enough to survive even snow and ice!
While winter trees lack leaves, Hazel and Alder are beginning to grow catkins and small buds can be seen on Horse Chestnut, Beech and Birch trees too.
Sometimes little yellow primroses start to appear now as well, providing much needed early nectar for bumblebees, bee-flies and the occassional butterfly emerging from hibernation. Given the importance of nectar from wildflowers in January as a food source for many insects, we do not advise collection or foraging of wildflowers at this time of year.
If you have space to plant, now is a really good time to plant tulips and alliums. While most Spring flowering bulbs should be planted in October and November, these do particularly well when planted in late December or early January. If you have leftover crocus and narcissus bulbs from Autum that are still firm to touch and sprouting in the packet, go ahead and plant these too! Staggering your planting through Autumn and Winter in this way is also a great way to extend the flowering season in your garden!
Join a local group
Almost every town and village in Ireland has a Tidy Towns and/ or Biodiversity Group. Getting involved is a great way to meet new people and take small actions that together will have a big impact on your local environment. If your local village doesn't have one yet, maybe its time to start one up!
Links to useful resources