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Spring Diary 2023

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Spring seemed to arrive slowly this year. The flowering of plants is often cited as an indicator of climate change and certainly I have noticed that many plants are flowering weeks earlier than they did when I started my first nature diary over 50 years ago. Bluebells are a prime example, fully in bloom in early April, a flower I used to associate with the month of May.

March was the wettest month for over forty years but, by donning my wellington boots, I was able to ascertain that the usual succession of spring flowers was braving the rain. Coltsfoot, Lesser Celandine, Primroses, red nettle followed by cowslips and the aforementioned, bluebells. Unfortunately, due to the wet weather and perhaps other more sinister factors, there were very few insects around to take advantage of these early sources of nectar.

Brimstone on Dandelion

A rare day of sunshine on March 19th produced my first butterflies of the year in the garden; a Brimstone and a Small Tortoiseshell; both awaking from hibernation rather than emerging from a chrysalis.

Peacock on Dandelion

The much maligned dandelion, is also a very important nectar source from early spring onwards. Butterflies, bees and a variety of other insects sip from its blooms. My friends think I am mad because I regularly mow around some of these plants in early spring when sources of nectar are few.

As expected, Chiffchaffs were the first migrant birds to sing. I heard my first one on March 17th and every day since then despite the weather. Some of these birds would have over-wintered here in Lincolnshire but many others will have "migrated" north from the southern counties of England.

A few Sand Martins arrived before the end of March, but I had to wait until April before logging singing Blackcaps (on April 1st) and a succession of other arrivals throughout April.

Little Ringed Plovers

Most of the migrant waders that we see on our coast and inland waters are pausing for rest and to feed up before continuing their journey further north to their nesting grounds. An exception to this is one of my favourites; the delightful Little Ringed Plover.

Little Ringed Plovers mating
Unlike its cousin the Ringed Plover which nests on the coast, mainly on beaches, the Little Ringed Plover prefers gravel or shingle close to fresh water on which to nest. It can be found all over Europe on escarpments along rivers, but here it has taken readily to a man made habitat. Little Ringed Plovers can be found on our gravel pits; even some that are still being worked. It also takes readily to purpose built islands on our nature reserves. Although LRP's as birders know them, usually arrive in March, they often don't nest until early May. I was privileged to watch a pair mating at RSPB Frampton Marsh on May 3rd.

Curlew Sandpipers, Frampton

Other beautiful waders passing through will include Dunlin, Curlew Sandpipers and Ruff. Curlew Sandpipers are small waders, similar in size to the more numerous Dunlins but with a distinctive, slightly down-curved bill. In spring they will be coming into their attractive rose pink breeding plumage.


Ruffs are the waders that can confuse eve some experienced birdwatchers. This is because they come in a huge variety of plumages and sizes. The cock birds are named after the costume associated with the likes of Sir Walter Raleigh! The females are much plainer, brown with scalloped backs and are referred to as Reeves. Most of the cock birds look similar to the hens in the winter except for a few, some of which seem to retain parts of their gaudy spring plumage.

Some ruff over-winter here, but their numbers are augmented with new arrivals in late April and early May from Africa. At Frampton Marsh some remain until late spring and the males can be seen displaying in Leks of several rival birds. Maybe one day they will stay and nest but they seem to prefer the taiga and bogs of northern Europe.

Wood- Sandpiper

Along with the regular migrants which can include a few beautiful Wood Sandpipers there is always a smattering of rarities.

A Montague's Harrier made a brief appearance at Willow Tree Fen nature reserve in Lincolnshire where Cranes are nesting again for the third successive year. Until 2020 Cranes had not bred in Lincolnshire for 400 years, so clearly these huge and majestic birds qualify as important rarities and the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust ensure their well being and manage their habitat for both the benefit of the cranes and a wide variety of other wildlife.

Black-winged Stilt

Amongst the migrant arrivals at RSPB Frampton Marsh was a Blue-winged Teal from America and a few Black-winged Stilts, relatively common in southern Europe where they favour salt pans, but very rare here in Britain.

Orange Tip

By April 17th I had seen nine species of butterfly in the garden and a good assortment of bees. Some species such as the Holly Blue are multi-brooded and more at home in gardens than the wider countryside. Other species such as the Brimstone and Orange Tip are more widely distributed, but more or less absent from areas of arable farmland where insecticide sprays are widely used. Whether you live in an urban area or more rural environment your garden can be an important oasis for all types of wildlife. Careful planting and the creation of habitats such as mini woodland glades, wildflower meadows and garden ponds can enhance the value of your garden for the benefit of a surprisingly large and diverse population of wildlife.

Ian Misselbrook
April 2023


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