Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Signs of things like spring

As things seem to have been a little quiet of late, here are a few of the bright points of spring in our part of the world. For almost the last two months we've been pretty much rain-free, which is unusual, and it's starting to be a little worrisome for the sake of our garden veg. That's beside the point though...

The sun hits the back of our house full-on, so early on in the year the plants get a good boost of warmth and get on with flowering. We're then visited by a variety of invertebrates, bumblebees and honey-bees first, then overwintering butterflies and an increasingly varied crop of flies, bees, wasps, moths and beetles. As it stands, we've not got a great deal in the way of early-flowering plants to offer them nectar, but the bank of grape-hyacinth behind the door is particularly popular with the bees.

Honey-bee at grape-hyacinth.

Soon the birds get in on the act. Song swells from the odd Robin and Great Tit, then they're joined by Mistle Thrush, Woodpigeon, Song Thrush, Dunnock, Wren, Blackbird... and it's not long before we're seeing Blackbirds and Robins hurtling through the garden with beaks full of nest material, looking like some kind of surreal handlebar moustache.

Blackbird nest. This one in a particularly vulnerable place, next to a track and almost on the ground - in fact no more than 20cm off.

The variety of flowers on offer in the garden also starts to increase, and the bees are quick to take advantage. From the early few Bombus terrestris, we're now seeing a nice variety of bumblebees, including the ambulatory ginger-snap which is Bombus pascuorum.

Bombus pascuorum.

By this time there are plenty of other species beginning to emerge in the woods and lanes around the house, and working out of the Yarner NNR office has its advantages when there is a wealth of wildlife around to enliven lunch-breaks...

Pearl-bordered Fritillary. A species which emerges early in the season, and has benefited from the last few years of warm dry springs down here in Devon.

Woodpigeon. The half-murmured growling coo of Woodpigeons is one of my favourite sounds, always associated with hot, lazy, sunny afternoons, redolent with the hum of bees and hoverflies and the scent of green things growing.

And now, by the end of April, we've got the first brood of Robins squalling for food just beyond the fence - dicing with death at the hands of the neighbours' cats. Given that about 90% of young birds die in their first year, their chances aren't good, but for the moment the weather at least is doing them a favour. Shame I can't say the same for the local cats...

Robin. One of the early broods to come out - much squealing and agitation when mum or dad hove into view with a juicy morsel.
Finally, I was lucky enough to see what looks like a Large Tortoiseshell butterfly in my in-laws' garden on Saturday:

Large Tortoiseshell - believe it or not. A species probably now extinct in Britain and only occurring as an escape, a deliberate release or as a wandering vagrant on easterly winds. Given the state of this one, I'm going for the latter!

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