While we’re snug in our houses…

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February doesn’t have a reputation for being the most productive month of the year for wildlife and you may think that after dark there would be even less. Settling down at the fire at 5pm, after the sun sinks, you tend to think that there’s little happening outside, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Taking the dog out for her final airing a couple of weeks ago, I was crossing the bridge over the mill lade, a few yards from my front door, when something caught my eye in the water. The nearby river was in spate and the water in the lade was the colour of milky tea. My attention was drawn to a black object in the water, which looked like a log, but wasn’t floating at the speed of the current. I shone my torch on it and another similar object appeared beside it. It was a pair of otters (picture, top of page) They splashed around for a few seconds in the beam of my torch, before disappearing.

Our awareness of insects and creepie-crawlies in mid-winter tends to be reduced to the odd house spider in the bath, but outside, after dark, life goes on.

At the start of the month, I decided to try out my newly acquired moth trap, on the off-chance that there might be something on the wing. I chose a mild, frost-free night as moths can’t stand the cold. In the morning, I was pleased to discover that two species had come to call. One was a tiny chestnut-brown coloured moth, appropriately called the chestnut, which flies during the winter months and has a distinctive rounded wing shape. The other was larger and quite drab with black veins. This was a new one for my garden and one which certainly doesn’t live up to its name, the pale brindled beauty. It was a male and the reason I can be sure is that the female is completely wingless, or apterous, a feature which is often found in moths that emerge in the winter months. The males fly from January to March, searching for the females which have climbed up tree-trunks. They are both common moths but who knew that they even existed?

At this time of year, we tend to think of nightlife as being solely tawny owls, which are very vocal, but other things are fighting for survival outside, in the dark, while we are safely tucked up in bed.