Happy New Year!

I hope you found plenty of time over the Christmas period to get out and about and  see some of winter’s special wildlife.

Now Christmas is over and the days have started to lengthen, the first signs of spring are very apparent. Coming back to work this morning and getting in my car, it was impossible to ignore the dawn chorus that is an everyday occurrence now. Robins and great tits are dominating, but more and more species will join in. I also saw my first snowdrop in flower on New Year’s day and daffodils in flower in Nidderdale in Yorkshire just after Christmas - in the snow.

One of the strangest things I found over Christmas - an old car seat sporting a fine colony of moss! (Mark Ward)

I had a couple of species on my modest “hitlist” for the Christmas break and I’m pleased to say I was not disappointed by either. They are both target species featured in your Spring Nature’s Home magazine Wildabout section that I hope is giving you lots of ideas for things to see and do. Myself and the rest of the team are looking forward to hearing all about your adventures.

First up, the hawfinch. Many of you will be aware that this is the biggest invasion of these handsome finches for many, many years. I’ve seen quite a few since October, but have been longing for a really good count. The 1-4 that I keep seeing in yew tress here at The Lodge in my lunch break have been showing superbly, but I’ve been yearning for a tree-full of these chunky cherry stone crackers. I hope you've had success, but don't worry if not - check out my hawfinch-hunting blog which has some useful hints. Yew trees are definitely the tree of choice now but those berry supplied are dwindling so don't leave it too long...

That chance came on the 29th December when I visited Fountains Abbey near Ripon while visiting my in-laws and what a show I had from at least 40 birds in the vast avenues of old yew trees that this stately home can boast. They were rarely out of sight and sound and were even in the car park. It was a fabulous hour or so.

Dreaming of a red Christmas
I was already in good spirits though because a species of fungi that I’ve been saving up to see put on a very impressive display at a site close to home. Scarlet elfcup is one of the February targets for Nature’s Home Wild about but the first are fruiting now and they look absolutely stunning against the moss of fallen branches in wet woodland. My photos taken on my phone won’t do them justice but I hope you get the idea and are inspired to go and search form them yourself.

I was pleased to find a single example of the scarce orange form of scarlet elf cup (Mark Ward)

Early stages of these fabulous fungi have them showing as little cups (Mark Ward)

The sudden flash of red among the brown and green is a bit of a heartstopper - like finding buried treasure! (Mark Ward)

How many times do this happen to you? I spent 40 minutes scrutinising the woodland floor for elfcups and moving a few leaves when back at my car saw me finding this one right next to the entrance! (Mark Ward) 

To find this fungi, you need a nice damp, preferably wet, woodland with plenty of fallen, moss-covered branches of broadleaved trees. Get down low and scan carefully for that explosion of red from the forest floor. Good luck. It's pouring down with rain here in Bedfordshire today and I reckon elfcups will love the extra wetness and even more will come out so make a date in your diary to get searching.