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Spring has sprung in January as the first snowdrops appear

By Linda Stewart

Published 20/01/2016

Heralding the start of Spring: Drifts of elegant snowdrops pushing up through the dark leaf litter
Heralding the start of Spring: Drifts of elegant snowdrops pushing up through the dark leaf litter
Woodland flowers in bloom in Coleraine
Woodland flowers in bloom in Coleraine

It has been a particularly wet winter, but there is light at the end of the tunnel as snowdrops are already starting to bloom.

The tiny white blossoms are making an unusually early appearance thanks to the mild temperatures.

Flowering snowdrops have been sighted in Belfast, Coleraine and Killaloo Wood outside Londonderry.

The Woodland Trust said the earliest sighting it had received as part of its Nature's Calendar project was at the end of last year, on December 28, close to Kircubbin on the Ards Peninsula.

Last year the earliest flowering snowdrop was recorded on January 2, and the year before it was January 10.

The sightings are growing earlier all the time and may be linked to climate change, the Woodland Trust said. In 2001 the average first flowering day for snowdrops was February 9.

Birdwatchers are also picking up unseasonal sightings. Twitcher Wilton Farrelly said he had seen more blackcaps wintering in gardens and an expansion in little egrets moving north, with some even starting to turn up in Belfast parks such as Orangefield.

Scores of little auks were also swept into Scotland in a series of storms which battered UK coasts, and some have been found inland in Northern Ireland.

The small seabird normally breeds in the Arctic and winters on the north Atlantic, but has been turning up in Belfast because of the strong winds throughout December and the new year.

One was discovered in a work yard in Dundonald and another was found at the Waterworks in north Belfast.

Civil engineer David Knight, who photographed the north Belfast bird, said: "They don't usually come as far south as this.

"I was just walking along and I saw this bird close to the edge of the reservoir and I said to myself: 'That's a little auk'."

The Woodland Trust is urging members of the public to get their snowdrop and celandine sightings in.

Patrick Cregg, director of the organisation in Northern Ireland, said: "The recent wintry weather may make you think it's too early to look for signs of spring, but the signs are out there and this is a great time to wrap up and get out and about.

"We're keen to get a good geographical spread of observations and are appealing to local people to take part. Please remember that your records, no matter how few, will make a valuable contribution to scientific research."

Find out more about the Woodland Trust project at naturescalendar.org.uk

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