Six Signs Of Spring Wildlife
Its official, the clocks have changed, the ‘big coats’ are back in the wardrobe and soon you can even contemplate turning off the heating. But when it comes to our wildlife, spring is already well under way, from our backyards to the migration superhighways in the skies above us. So what to look out for as the days grow longer? Tom Marshall from Yorkshire’s Nature Triangle gives some top tips.
Gulp, it’s a long journey
From south of the Sahara, Arabia and the Indian sub-continent, that classic harbinger of summer, the swallow, has started to arrive on our shores. Little bigger than a sparrow, the swallow travels some 200 miles a day, at speeds of up to 35 mph – no time for Sunday drivers (or flyers) when you’ve got thousands of miles to cover.
Once a classic farmyard resident, swallow numbers have dropped dramatically in recent years. You can still do your bit though, by providing artificial nests in open sheds, eaves or barns at home, or providing a back garden builders’ merchants in dry weather by leaving a muddy area so they can collect nesting material.
Warming spring mornings will find our resident reptiles heading out to sunbathe. Try local heathlands or open nature reserves with wooden boardwalks – these natural sunbeds are irresistible to common lizards in particular – so watch where you’re walking! Extensive heathlands may also offer the chance to encounter the adder – our only venomous snake. Perfectly harmless if respected and watched at distance, these are fascinating creatures which you may even be lucky enough to see ‘dancing’ as males vie for a romantic liaison. Closer to home, compost piles or grass stacks may just be home to larger and non-venomous grass snakes – who are also remarkably adept swimmers!
Strictly come dancing
Spring also sees our ponds, lakes and reservoirs become the perfect stage for one of the bird world’s most delightful shows – the dance of the grebes. Once persecuted to just a few dozen pairs by the late 1800s, great crested grebes now flourish in waterways across Britain. Cementing the pair pond for these delicate waterbirds means an intricate tete a tete across the water, with perfectly synchronised moves culminating in a flurry of water and the exchanging of gifts of water weed. A display not to be matched in nature, that would certainly get a ‘ten from Len’. Look out in a few weeks’ time for the humbug-coloured stripy youngsters riding on the adult grebes’ backs.
On northern England’s cliff tops it’s all about the penthouse high-rise living. Spring sees countless thousands of fulmars, guillemots, razorbills, gannets and kittiwakes competing for the best des res, alongside that most sought after of seabirds, the puffin. Spring and early summer is prime time for experiencing the assault on your senses offered by the sight, sound and smell of these ‘seabird cities’. It’s a race to beat the calendar as the birds aim to lay their eggs, raise their chicks and get back amongst the surf by the summer. Such vast numbers of birds doesn’t go unnoticed by predators too, like peregrines keeping a watchful eye over proceedings.
Forget the red carpet – as April rolls into May it’s all about the blue carpet in our native woodlands. Perhaps the most quintessential of spring flowers, the native English bluebell creates a subtle blanket in deciduous woods from Cornwall to the shores of Loch Lomond. One of the first woodland species to flower, it’s a favourite with orange-tip and Brimstone butterflies. This apparent ubiquity however, belies troubled times for this most British of blooms, with loss of ancient woodlands, historical picking and the non-native Spanish variety all taking their toll. You can do your bit by giving cultivated non-native varieties of bluebells a miss at the garden centre which inter-seed with their Spanish cousins.
Rocking by the pool
Warmer days and (slightly) warmer seas also offer the chance to dip a toe – literally – into the world beneath the waves. With or without the excuse of children in tow with a bucket and net, low tide rock pools are the place to discover crabs, starfish, anemones and much more in these mini-oceans left as the waters recede. With colourful fish like tompot blennies, shrimps and all manner of other creatures taking shelter from hungry herons, rock pooling is a great activity for all the family.