Ditton Quarry Nature Reserve in Februrary

Have a go at identifying trees by their buds

  • The pale grey twigs of the ash tree bear black conical buds. They are set in opposite pairs and the tip of each twig ends in a single flattened bud, which is much larger than the rest. The ash tree does not open its leaves until late April.

  • Beech trees don't always lose all their leaves in winter, so you can usually identify them from the dead rusty-brown foliage still clinging to their branches. Their slender twigs bear long (2cm), narrow brown buds, which taper to a sharp point.

  • In winter all three species of lime can be identified by their shiny red twigs. The twigs are zigzag-shaped and the buds are arranged alternately. Each bud has two protective scales, one of which is larger than the other.

  • Oak trees can be identified from the clusters of buds growing towards the tips of each twig. As the buds are tightly grouped, the leaves are bunched closely together in summer.

  • The bright green buds of the sycamore tree are set in opposite pairs on smooth grey twigs. The buds are hard and remain tightly closed until early April. Sycamores were introduced to the British Isles from France.

Magpie Poem

One for sorrow, two for joy;
Three for a girl, four for a boy;
Five for silver, six for gold;
Seven for a secret, never to be told;
Eight for a wish, nine for a kiss;
Ten for a bird that's best to miss.

Animal tracks

Now is a good time to see animal tracks, in mud or snow (when it falls!).

Small mammal and rabbit tracks are most easily found close to their burrows or feeding areas. The rabbits’ hind legs leave long exaggerated imprints. Have a look and study the differences between the prints left by the brown rat (Rattus norvegicus), grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) and rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus).

The fox, Vulpes vulpes, does not keep to regular trails. A fox print is very dog-like, but far more compact. The print has four digits with the outer two curved towards the inner ones.

Don’t forget to look out for Father Christmas and his reindeer dropping in for a rest around the 24th December!


Woodmouse burrows are more often found in the open compared to those of voles, which tend to be in, or on the edge of cover. The tunnel systems of their burrows are also deeper underground than those of voles, often going down to a metre or more.