Mark Ward, author of Wildlife on Your Doorstep published by Reed New Holland this spring, reveals the wildlife delights you can find close to home this spring.
After a sluggish start in March, nature moves into top gear in the months of April and May. Spring has well and truly sprung and all manner of birds, bees, bugs and beasts, many fresh from hibernation, parade their finest colours and set about finding a mate. It is a riot of colour and activity and the great news is you don’t need to travel far to get in on the action.
You can find hundreds of different species within walking distance of your home. All you need to do is to get out there and get looking and listening!
Feel the buzz
Start in your garden where many insects are looking for nectar as flowers burst into bloom. Queen bumblebees are busy looking for places to set up a new colony after spending the winter months hibernating underground.
It’s not just the bumblebees that are on the wing though – there are around 270 species of bee in the UK and dozens of species live in gardens.
Leafcutter bees reveal their presence by leaving perfect semicircles cut out of leaves and use the sections they carry off to seal their nest chambers.
Solitary bees excavate tunnels in soft ground at the edge of your paths, patio and flowerbeds. Look out for tiny holes suddenly appearing, fresh excavations and the inhabitants coming and going. Mini bumblebee-lookalikes include the Tawny Mining Bee and the wonderfully-named Hairy-footed Flower Bee.
The number of butterflies increases dramatically as April progresses. My favourite is the gorgeous male Orange-tip. It is a white butterfly and has the brightest orange tips to its forewings and a mossy-green pattern on its hindwings.
The Brimstone butterfly (below) might be your first of the year though. If ever a creature lived up to its name, this butterfly does it with its bright butter colours that leave you in no doubt that spring, and warmer weather, is here!
Back from Africa
Garden birds have laid claim to any nestboxes you have and many migrants, fresh back from a winter in Africa. Watch for white-rumped House Martins from around mid-April, but the all black, screaming Swifts won’t appear until a month later.
The dawn chorus peaks in late April and early May when the voices of the Cuckoo, warblers including the Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler, and many other African migrants join your resident songsters.
It’s also the time to start looking for baby animals with Fox cubs to be found from April and Badger cubs appearing above ground in May.
This extract from Wildlife on Your Doorstep captures one of my most magical spring moments.
Diary Notes: 30th May – We have Badgers!
Nine in the evening and Springwatch had finished on TV, filling me with inspiration about the wildlife-watching season ahead. With a good hour’s daylight left, I went into the garden to gaze over the hedge into the field, hoping to see an owl. In one of the moments when you sense rather than see, I turned my head left to see a low-slung shape, blazing black and white stripes on its head, barrelling up the field edge, before scurrying into the hedge surrounding the garden next to ours. I wanted that garden to be ours more than anything at that moment. We have Badgers.
The next night I hopped over the fence to put out food on the track next to our hedge. I picked up a bag of dog biscuits from the supermarket, a bit worried that my choice of the cheapest range of biscuits might attract some disapproving glances from pet owners.
I eagerly waited, watching those biscuits, but nothing came. The following night, the sound of crunching as soon as I stepped outside saw me approaching the hedge with the lightest footsteps I think I’ve ever made. I’d done it – a Badger was feeding there. It immediately accepted me watching from eight feet away hidden behind the privet hedge and hardly daring to breathe. It stayed for 10 minutes, enough time to gobble the lot before turning and scurrying off back up the path.