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Spring 2008

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It seems to be fashionable at the moment to go out and find unseasonably early plants in flower, and attribute this to global warming. Even this April on BBC Radio 4, I heard someone pontificating about an early spring - what nonsense!

Spring at St Andrews Church
Spring 2008 was cold, mainly too wet to work the land properly and decidedly late. I think the photograph of the daffodils in the snow speaks louder than words.

Frogs spawned in our pond at the beginning of March, much as usual, but a series of frosts, well in to April, put paid to most of the spawn and later many of the tadpoles. A few have survived in one pond where out of control Irises provided shelter, but none survived in the more open pond.

Barnacle Geese

Most of the incoming migrant birds appeared on similar dates to previous years; Sand Martins and Chiffchaffs by the middle of March, Willow Warblers and Blackcaps by the end of the month and Swallows in early April. However wintering birds showed a distinct reluctance to leave. A mid April visit to Scotland found plenty of Barnacle Geese loitering at Caerlaverock nature reserve on the Solway Firth and Fieldfares and Redwings were still widespread whilst there summering cousins; Ring ouzels were already singing in corries on the Cairngorms. A fine male Brambling in the garden in early April was a lovely Spring bonus but 3 Siskins on our peanut feeder on April 30 is very late indeed.

Watching birds in the local woodland in early May has been unusually easy with so few leaves breaking. Garden Warblers and a Nightingale singing in Temple Wood provided remarkably easy viewing but neither of these LBJs (Little Brown Jobs), equal in appearance their rich and varied songs.

Dunsby Fen

The new wetland and surrounding rough grass created by Andrew Atkinson at Dunsby Fen has provided a taste of what the fens must have been like prior to drainage. Every visit I made produced something different. In addition to the resident Greylag Geese and Mallards a succession of wintering duck, some of which stayed late in to the spring added interest. Pairs of Shoveler, Gadwall and higher numbers of Teal obviously found the flashes a good source of food and currently the surrounding grassland is echoing with the voices of displaying Lapwings, Redshank, Skylarks and Meadow Pipits. Yellow Wagtails and even a Little Egret resplendent in the plumes, once sought after for Victorian ladies hats, gave the place a Mediterranean feel.

Birds of prey find this habitat to their liking too, but the Short-eared Owl and Hen Harrier that appeared over winter have now left the hunting rights to the resident Kestrels, Buzzards and Barn Owls.

Dunsby Fen is privately owned and should only be viewed from the road; preferably from the inside of a car so that wild life is not disturbed.

For another example of fenland recreation, but on a far grander scale than Dunsby Fen, I recommend a visit to the RSPB reserve at Lekenheath Fen in Breckland. I made an early May visit and despite showers of rain and hail, I found the place alive with newly arrived migrants. All three hirundines (Swallow family), Swifts, Cuckoos and a wealth of warblers were finding food supplies in, or over the extensive reedbeds and at one stage I counted six Hobbies and four Marsh Harriers over the reeds at one time. Top prize went to a Common Crane; my first in Britain but probably once resident in the fens before they were drained.

It is hardly surprising that sun loving butterflies have been in very short supply this spring and I recorded very little until May, but in recent days Brimstone, Orange Tip, Holly Blue, Peacock and Speckled Wood have all been on the wing in my garden. Harbingers of summer?

Ian Misselbrook
May 2008.


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