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Spring Diary 2012

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"February Fill Dyke", as they say here in Lincolnshire did not happen. We emerged from another dry winter with much of England from the south and east to most of the midlands and as far north as Yorkshire officially accorded drought status. Water restrictions and hose pipe bans were applied as early as April and gardeners and farmers were becoming concerned.

To quote another local saying, "March Many Weathers" did hold true. For much of the month Britain was bathed in sunshine with Aberdeen breaking all records with temperatures up in the twenties. Soil conditions were perfect for drilling and many crops were sown much earlier than usual. For some crops such as cereals and grasses this was a good thing but some farmers planting maize and lucerne were certainly taking a gamble. By the end of March the weather had returned to normal, in fact, a week after the heat wave Aberdeen had six inches of snow! The first half of April typified an English spring with a mixture of sunshine, cold breezes and very welcome April showers. However, the second half of April recorded some of the wettest weather of the year, surely bringing an end to the drought? The extraordinarily wet weather proved to be a disaster for many of our nesting birds bringing a cold, wet demise to many young nestlings.

Early spring flowers such as Lesser Celandine, Violets and Coltsfoot benefited from the March sunshine and bloomed in profusion providing a valuable source of nectar for bumble bees and plentiful butterflies including Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Comma and that harbinger of spring; the Brimstone.

Ladybirds emerging from hibernation

The stumps of our heavily pruned buddleia seemed to provide a perfect place to hibernate and during the unseasonably warm March sunshine I watched scores of ladybirds emerging. I can't help thinking that April's far less convivial conditions will have caused the Ladybirds to regret this action.

Frogs were exceptionally slow to arrive in my pond and few in numbers when they arrived. One lone frog on March 3rd was eventually joined by more on March 10th but spawning did not really start in earnest until after then. Water quality must be alright as the Smooth Newts are very much in evidence as are Pond Skaters and Diving Beetles.

Arriving migrant birds are generally late, although Chiffchaffs were pretty much on queue. Having said that, many Chiffchaffs have probably only travelled up from their winter breaks in Devon and Cornwall, or perhaps northern Europe.

Some winter visitors seem reluctant to leave. By late April in Lincolnshire, we still had a few Short-eared Owls, Hen Harriers and Fieldfares and flocks of finches such as Linnets had not taken up their nesting territories.

Migrant waders are perhaps more reliable with the elegant Avocets already gracing coastal and inland habitats with their presence. Twenty years ago much was made of having to get their habitat just right. Shallow saline lagoons full of tiny crustaceans, was the aim of many coastal nature reserves, in order to create a kind of shrimp soup for Avocets to sift with their delicate upturned bills. Now for reasons unexplained Avocets seem to have reduced their requirements and have taken to nesting in a variety of "less suitable" sites including former gravel workings.


Spotted Redshank

As well as newly arrived migrant waders, spring is the time of year when many of our over-wintering waders moult in to gaudy summer plumage. Drab brown and grey Godwits become russet and orange, Ruff develop spectacular head dresses and the Spotted Redshank turns from grey to black. The individual in the photograph is very nearly in full breeding costume.

Black winged Stilt and Avocets

Storms in April not only encouraged overwintering birds to linger, but also swept in some rarities. A Black Winged Stilt that appeared at Rutland Water before making a tour of some Lincolnshire wetland reserves provided a touch of Mediterranean elegance to many viewers. Rather less exotic, but for me just as exciting; were two Ring Ouzels that my wife discovered in an abandoned quarry, nature reserve near our home, probably en route to a Scottish or Welsh mountain. We also discovered a beautiful male Redstart fly catching from a hedge in a secluded Lincolnshire valley, probably bound for a western Sessile Oak wood.

A brief stop at another gravel pit reserve on my way back from head office on the last Friday in April provided the biggest surprise of the spring when all the ducks, gulls and waders rose in to the air in panic. I scanned the sky expecting a bird of prey; perhaps a Peregrine but instead a huge Great Skua or Bonxie appeared. I have seen these off the Lincolnshire coast harassing migrating terns but never at an inland gravel pit. Unfortunately I did not have my camera with me but another birder in the hide was able to record the action.

If you are not able to get out and about as often as you would like and you have a garden this can be a source of natural history delights. Following the attempted nesting by a pair of Tree Sparrows last spring I invested in a three hole sparrow colony box and two further tree sparrow boxes making a total of eight bird boxes in the garden. To date none are occupied!

One of the three cock Reed Buntings that visited the garden feeders during the winter lingered well in to April. It readily fed from the hanging feeders whereas the three Tree Sparrows and a Yellowhammer would only feed on the ground.

Sparrowhawk with Blackbird

A very wet Sunday at the end of April was the day a Sparrowhawk succeeded in killing a Blackbird in our garden. Sheltering from the rain under the fruit trees it settled on the ground to devour its prey.


Ian Misselbrook
May 2012


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