DESPITE some frosty nights, this year’s early January daytime temperatures were unusually high in Southeast England when sunlit, cloudless skies usually mean very low temperatures. Plants and animals wasted no time in making the most of what felt like a false spring.

Though essentially ephemeral (plants which can flower throughout the year), it is highly unusual to see perfect dandelion flowers wide open in early January. Except for this year, when bright-yellow composite flowers were a stark contrast against the dour leaves scattered around the hedgerow oak tree.

Forestry Journal:

The usual suspects in early-flowering trees like sallow and common hazel were even earlier still, with flowers on pussy willow playing ‘peek-a-boo’ from the brown bud scales on the first day of January. Male catkins on common hazel were already long and loose and ready to let go of their pollen just a few days later.

And most surprising of all was a pair of magpies constructing their domed nest of hawthorn twigs in the week beginning 10 January. It’s not unusual to see magpies building nests in late February or, more usually, March. Back in the 1950s and ‘60s magpies would not start to nest until April. Early January must be a record, at least around here in South Hertfordshire. 

Forestry Journal:

The other interesting thing is that the nest is located in a group of young elm trees, the first time I have seen this piebald corvid’s nest in an elm tree since the 1960s. The trees are root suckers which have successfully grown up from the rootstocks of old veteran elm trees that were felled in the 1970s after succumbing to Dutch elm disease. It’s a heartening sign, because elm suckers are usually invaded by elm bark beetles which carry fungus causing Dutch elm disease at a much earlier growth stage than this.