Best of the British countryside in February

From starling murmurations and early songbirds to dramatic hilltop sunsets, here is selection of the month's best photos from around the British countryside in February.

Crested tit

Come February, winter begins to wane and the first signs of spring start to appear. Whether you’re wandering among the hills and valleys of your local countryside or walking familiar routes in the city, through parks, churchyards and allotments, there is plenty to see.

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From singing spring birds, gliding swans and playing otters, to sunsets from high hills and prehistoric remains, we’ve come across some spectacular photography while putting together the February 2021 issue of BBC Countryfile Magazine.

Celebrate the month ahead with our photo gallery of beautiful photographs from around the UK in February.


Mistle thrush

bird on a stick
The mistle thrush has a short, wistful song/Credit: Getty

One of the most evocative sounds in nature, the dawn chorus returns this month as
avian songsters, full of purpose and ambition, sing at the beginning of each day to
stake their claims on territories and mates.

The missile thrush has short, wistful, almost melancholic phrases of song from December onwards. Often sings at dusk and during rain, which gives rise to the old nickname of ‘stormcrow’.


Woodlark

Bird on the ground
Woodlark (Lullula arborea)/Credit: Alamy

Head to southern heathlands on a late winter’s day to hear this little-known songster. Males produce a beguiling cascade of notes, varying the rate and tone with each phrase.


Calf Crag, Cumbria

Hiker on hill summit
Views from near the summit of Calf Crag/Credit: James Forrest

The much-celebrated writer Alfred Wainwright is perhaps best-known for his seven guidebooks describing 214 fells in the Lake District, but his Coast to Coast route across northern England is a close second in the hearts of British ramblers. 

The 182-mile trail traverses the width of England, from St Bees Head in the west to Robin Hood’s Bay in the east. If you’re feeling intrepid, take on the whole 182-mile pilgrimage; or, if time is scarce, simply walk a stage or two.

One of the very best legs is the delightful Rosthwaite to Grasmere section (pictured). Crossing the Central Fells in the Lake District, this stage includes more than 700m of ascent.


Great tit

Bird on a branch
Listen out for great tits this February/Credit: Getty

By February, the great tit’s clean piping notes are refreshing our woodlands. The most easily recognised is the “tee-cher, tee-cher, tee-cher” two-note call.  


Aberystwyth Pier, Ceredigion

Birds in the sky
Thousands of starlings form huge ‘murmurations’ over the town and the seaside pier of Aberystwyth/Credit: Alamy

As the winter sun sets with a glower over Cardigan Bay, vast flocks of starlings swirl and pirouette over the seaside town of Aberystwyth.  Having dispersed widely into the surrounding countryside to feed during the day, the birds return to the town and gather in their thousands to perform this dazzling sky dance. As night falls, they roost noisily on the cast-iron legs of the Victorian-era pier.


Goldfinch

Bird on a seed head
Goldfinch, Carduelis carduelis, on a winter teasel in Warwickshire/Credit: Alamy

A more recent arrival at bird feeding stations, the goldfinch is making up for lost time. Sometimes flocks of this yellow, brown and black, red-faced bird with a delightful twittering song will descend on to feeders. Originally attracted by nyger seed, it will eat sunflower hearts and small seeds, too.


Three Cliffs Bay, Swansea

Three Cliffs Bay, Gower Peninsula, South Wales
Three Cliffs Bay, Gower Peninsula, South Wales/Credit: Alamy

It’s not as if the south Gower coast is otherwise unremarkable – maritime grassland atop limestone rock, which has been scoured into beaches and bone caves, yielding to an expansive sea with Devon fizzing on the horizon – but Three Cliffs Bay is a truly special place. 


Bewick’s swans

Swans in flight with moon behind them
Bewick’s swans in flight with moon behind them/Credit: Getty

At 1.5m in length, this is our largest native wildfowl. The adult possesses all-white plumage with huge black feet and a black knobbly beak marked by an extensive orange tip. It is among our favourite British birds and for this reason it thrives almost everywhere, from the Outer Hebrides to inner London, and occupies any habitat with open water, including coastal harbours.

Despite the bird’s popularity and partly because of its confiding manner, some swans fall victim to vandalism. Up to half of all nests in one study area failed, even before hatching, because of human persecution. Surviving cygnets can remain with parents for almost one year.

Why February 24th the luckiest day of the year

February might feel a miserable month – long after the festivities of Christmas and not much to celebrate in terms of spring cheer. In Old English it was known as “Mud Month” or “Cabbage Month” (the only vegetable still growing at this time of year).

However, despite its reduced complement of days, February24th has long been heralded as the luckiest day of the year, when all manner of good things can happen.

February 24th prestigious status is believed to stem from being the feast day Saint Matthias – the lucky apostle chosen to replace Judas Iscariot.


Orrest Head, Cumbria

Orrest Head and Windermere, Lake District National Park
Orrest Head overlooking Windermere and Langdale Pikes in the Lake District National Park/Credit: Alamy

In 1930, the then 23-year-old Alfred Wainwright stepped off a train at Windermere Station, having travelled from his home town of Blackburn in Lancashire. This was his first visit to the Lake District. Immediately after leaving the station, young Alfred took the rough path that climbed to the nearest high ground north, bagging his first summit, Orrest Head. 


Otter, Isle of Mull

Otter and seaweed
Otters are one of seven species of mustelid living in the wild in the UK/Credit: Getty

The European otter, or lutra lutra (scientific name), is a carniverous mammal of the Mustelidae family (mustelid). There are seven species of mustelid living in the wild in the UK, each varying widely in looks and behaviour. Generally speaking mustelids are long-bodied, short-legged, thickly furred and tend to be active at night, which makes them elusive.


Minke Whale

Wale in deep blue water
Northern minke whale can sometimes be seen off the coast of Crinan/Credit: Getty

Minkes visit the North Yorkshire coast in August to feed on herring, and while they may not breach in the style of exuberant humpbacks, to be surrounded by six or seven for several hours is unforgettable. Extend your wildlife adventure with a nightjar safari or some spectacular gannet action at Bempton Cliffs.


Sutton Bank, North Yorkshire

Sunset over hills
Summer sunset from Sutton Bank in North Yorkshire/Credit: Alamy

The North York Moors offer an incredibly varied landscape, from ancient woodland and grassy dales to towering sea cliffs and miles upon miles of richly coloured heather moorland. Sutton Bank provides walkers with one of the finest views in Yorkshire and a chance to see the national park’s varied scenery from up high on the escarpment edge.


Ardmeanach Peninsula, Inner Hebrides

Looking north across Loch Scridain to the towering basalt terraces of the Ardmeanach Peninsula ©Alamy
Looking north across Loch Scridain to the towering basalt terraces of the Ardmeanach Peninsula. Encased at the foot of the 170m-high cliffs is the Fossil Tree/Credit: Alamy

On the western coast of the Scottish island of Mull, beneath the brooding volcanic massif of mighty Ben More, lies one of the wildest environments in the British Isles. The Ardmeanach Peninsula is a six-mile stretch of headland known simply as ‘The Wilderness’. It’s a fitting description of this trackless terrain characterised by deserted beaches, sparse coastal undercliffs and stunted trees beneath stark basalt terraces.


Marble Arch Caves, County Fermanagh

Marble Arch Caves, Northern Ireland
Marble Arch Caves lie in the County of Fermanagh in Northern Ireland/Credit: Alamy

The intricate passageways and stalactite-hung caverns of the Marble Arch Caves are just one of the geopark’s many features. Surrounding this subterranean world are drumlins and snaking rivers, upland blanket bog and the imposing 655m-high Cuilcagh Mountain.


Common frog, Norfolk

Common frog spawn
Common frog (Rana temporaria) and spawn in pond. West Runton, North Norfolk/Credit: Alamy

Did you know, the earliest frogspawn recorded by Nature’s Calendar (which records seasonal events to keep track of climate change) was spotted on 1 November 2004. A mild February is a good month to check the garden pond to see if your local amphibians have been active, especially in the south-west of England.


The Trinnacle, Great Manchester

The Trinnacle is a unique three pronged Gritstone Tor on Saddleworth Moor in the Peak National park
The Trinnacle is a unique three pronged Gritstone Tor on Saddleworth Moor in the Peak National park/Credit: Getty

All along the Pennines the effect of ice is evident, not least at the hauntingly beautiful serrated edges at Wimberry Stones high above Dove Stone Reservoir. The line of stone edges strikes north as Dove Stone Rocks; splintered cliffs and gullies where ravens and peregrines scavenge and hunt above lakes secluded in the gouge of Greenfield Brook. Here at Raven Stones Brow, spectacular crags challenge climbers, none more so than the unique, three-pronged Trinnacle (pictured), a monolith that wouldn’t seem out of place in the iconic Monument Valley in Utah, USA.


Dinosaur Footprints, Isle of Skye

Tourists looking for fossilised dinosaur footprints on Staffin Beach, An Corran, Isle of Skye, Scotland
Discover dinosaur footprints on the Isle of Skye/Credit: Alamy

The spectacular mountain scenery of Skye is associated with fossil-free basalt but, around its coast there are tidal platforms of sedimentary rock where traces of the island’s Jurassic past have been found. At Staffin (pictured), Duntulm and Brother’s Point on the island’s north-eastern coast, clear imprints left by dinosaurs some 170 million years ago are revealed by the retreating tide.


Golitha Falls, Cornwall

Walkers in the woods
Take a walk to Golitha Falls in Cornwall/Credit: Justin Foulkes

We took at look at how to improve your health and fitness, while making new friends, by joining a walking group. Our guide on walking groups looks at the many benefits of walking with others and how to find and join a walking group in your local area.


St Mawes Castle, Cornwall

St Mawes Castel, Cornwall
gaze across Falmouth Bay from St Mawes Castle/Credit: Getty

Like the town of Falmouth opposite, St Mawes is situated on the entrance of the Carrick Roads – historically and to this day an important shipping lane, and the third deepest natural harbour in the world. Henry VIII was keen to defend the Carrick Roads against the French and Spanish, and built two elaborate coastal forts – at St Mawes and Falmouth – to guard against invasion. The castle at St Mawes was developed less over the intervening centuries and so still retains many of its original features. It’s a fascinating place to visit, in sunshine or showers, and the views across the water, along the coastline and out into Falmouth Bay are breathtaking.


Roseland Peninsula, Cornwall

Carrick Roads, Roseland Peninsula, Cornwall
Carrick Roads is an estuary on the Roseland Peninsula in Cornwall/Credit: Getty

A parcel of Cornish land, little more than a dozen miles long and only a few miles wide, lies remote between broad, languorous rivers and the sea. On the county’s south coast and often missed by holiday traffic heading west to Truro and beyond, the Roseland Peninsula is probably Cornwall’s best-kept secret.


Bournemouth Pier, Bournemouth

Bournemouth Pier at sunset
Bournemouth Pier at sunset/Credit: Alamy

Bournemouth’s iconic pier has had many makeovers since it was first built in 1856, yo-yoing in length like the ebb and flow of the tide that surrounds it. Storm damage, corrosion and the threat of German invasion in World War Two were responsible for the half-dozen major structural revisions. Today, stretching out more than 300m into the English Channel, the pier is the best place in this seaside town to watch the winter sun sink, but wrap up warm and don’t forget your hat and gloves. 


Barrel jellyfish, Cornwall

Barrel Jellyfish at Kynance Cove in Cornwall

Barrel Jellyfish at Kynance Cove in Cornwall/Credit: Alamy

Not only are there seals, basking sharks, porpoises and dolphins in Cornwall, but also Portuguese man-of-war and barrel jellyfish (pictured). Barrel jellyfish can weigh up to 35kg and may look alarming but, thankfully, the its sting is harmless to humans.

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