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Spring Diary 2009

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As I write in early April, I finally feel it is safe to announce that Spring has really arrived and we can look back on one of the harshest winters for two decades.

It didn't feel much like spring last Saturday (28th March) when we watched over 150 Sand Martins and about 50 newly arrived Swallows hawking for insects over reed beds at Fen Drayton nature reserve in Cambridgeshire. As we repeatedly had to turn our backs on flurries of sleet and hail it was hard to believe that any self respecting insect would be on the wing, but judging by the gathering hirundines they must have been.

Apart from the snow, the winter also brought some interesting birds. It is always nice to find a rarity on your own "patch" and over the years I have had my fair share of luck. Many of these rarities would hardly register with non birders; a Wood Warbler in my local Lincolnshire wood a few years ago or the Firecrest I found near my home when I lived in north Essex hardly raised an eyebrow in the local hostelry, but the Golden Oriole that revealed itself in the same wood will be etched on my memory forever.

Great White Egret
So too will the Great White Egret that I found - no, let's be honest, that my wife found in our local Lincolnshire fen. I was intent on watching a Barn Owl and a Buzzard in my binocular vision at the same time when my wife declared she had spotted a large egret.

"It will be a Little Egret", I stated confidently as up to 3 of these recent colonists were fairy regular visitors to this fen.

"No it is huge and it's got a yellow bill. Will you please look at it!"

Of course it turned out to be a Great White Egret, which fortunately stayed around long enough for several other birders to see it.

I must confess that I get almost as excited about anything unusual that turns up in the garden. Our feeding stations are attracting daily Yellowhammers and over the winter months Reed Buntings and Siskins have also taken advantage of the diverse food on offer. Two Bullfinches that appeared during the hard weather were the first in the garden for over ten years but on the other hand I derived enormous pleasure from feeding the local Robin during the worst of the snow when it actually perched on the table inches from me as I replenished supplies.


Every spring I feel almost child like pleasure in charting its progress. Snowdrops really belong to the winter I guess,but Coltsfoot which blooms for such a short period in early March is a true harbinger of spring.

Lesser Celandine
The first blooms of Lesser Celandine and Dog's Mercury appear about the same time, but unlike Coltsfoot they are there to be enjoyed for some time. Then hot on their heels come the Primroses and Dog Violets and by April the diversity of blooms is sufficient to keep most botanists happy.

A journey down to South Devon on April 7, from my home in Lincolnshire was like turning the calendar on at least two weeks in floristic terms. At Slapton Ley nature reserve the first bluebells were already in flower alongside other species I associate in my part of the world with the month of May. Red Campion, Herb Robert and Ramsons or Wild Garlic attracted busy Bumble Bees and here I also saw my first Speckled Wood and Green-veined White butterflies of the year. In addition to Swallows the first House Martins of the year hawked over the lake and a female Marsh Harrier, a rare bird in this part of the world, quartered the extensive reed bed where Water Rails squealed like stuck pigs.

Despite the weather frogs were spawning in early March in my garden ponds. I only hope late frosts, which have been a feature of recent springs, do not destroy the spawn as it did last year.

Peacock Butterfly

Bees and butterflies have also been evident in March, particularly during mid month when we really enjoyed some spring weather. Queen bumble bees were prospecting for places to start new colonies joined on the wing by Peacock, Small Tortoiseshells and bright yellow Brimstone butterflies.

Mid April usually seed my wife and I visiting mid Lincolnshire, much of which resembles the East Anglian Breckland. We made the first visit this year on Good Friday and despite a hostile weather forecast, we spent a lucrative and dry few hours there. Avian highlights included Little Ringed Plovers on the gravel pits but newly arrived passerine migrants provided the main attraction. Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers and Blackcaps were singing everywhere and here we heard our first Cuckoo. My wife's bird of the day was a Treecreeper, or rather a pair of Treecreepers which even managed to traverse a branch upside down "a la Nuthatch".

Peacock ButterflyButterflies and Bumble bees were much in evidence too and we counted 9 Peacocks, 2 Speckled Wood, 3 Brimstones, 3 Green-veined Whites and a single Comma.

Slow Worm

Reptiles were also enjoying the weak spring sunshine and in an area where heather moorland meets birch woodland we found 3 fairly docile Adders, a Common Lizard and a beautiful bronze coloured Slow-worm.

Wood Anemones in Limewoods

Our final stop in Mid Lincolnshire was in one of the Limewoods where the carpet of Wood Anemones is a spring spectacle not to be missed.

Wood Anemones and Lesser Celandine

It is not every year that I see Swallows before the end of March, but apart from the aforementioned birds I enjoyed a really early arrival when a friend telephoned me on the 20th March to say he had a Swallow on a telephone wire outside his house. I made the intrepid journey all of two hundred yards from my home to see the bird and my friend commented that he was glad I came because I never would have believed him if I had not seen it for myself!

Ian Misselbrook
April 2009.


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