Fluttering butterflies, feeding on flowers conjure up images of warm spring and long summer days, and at this time of year four of the butterflies monitored by *Nature’s Calendar, will start to appear. Seeing them creates a sense of optimism, which is heart-warming when you think about the different ways they’ve made it through the winter.
The orange-brown comma and the lemony-yellow brimstone hibernated in sheltered spaces where their underwing patterns camouflaged them perfectly. For the comma that’s in tree hollows or log piles; for the brimstone it’s inside ivy and dense foliage. They’ll start to emerge when the days warm up, and last year brimstones were first seen 34 days earlier than the 2001 benchmark year.
Butterfly friendly habitats
Fossil evidence dates butterflies to the Palaeocene, 56 million years ago. Native butterflies feed in a 100 –200 metre radius from their home so it takes several generations to move from one area to another, which has implications when there is a loss of habitat. The comma is one butterfly that has shown adaptability. A century ago it was a rare sight, confined to the few areas where hops were grown. But the caterpillars have changed their diet to nettles and they’ve spread across the UK.
Chiffchaff are returning to the UK from southern Europe and north Africa. They breed in mature, open woodland with dense undergrowth. Their call will be joined by over wintering marsh tits, nuthatches and dunnocks and the fluting song of the blackcap, also known as the ‘northern’ or ‘mock nightingale’. The blackcap is a visitor from Germany and north-east Europe, and is starting to overwinter here, taking advantage of the wide range of bird food we put out.
Further afield two birds are returning from Africa. Social sand martins live in colonies of more than a hundred pairs and can be found along riverbanks, where at only 12 cm long, you can see them swooping in search of insects. Named from the old English whiteers (whit /white and ers /arse) after its white rump, the wheatear is also known as chickells in Devon.
There will be a gradual greening of the deciduous trees as they come into budburst and first leaf. Last year all 11 species monitored by Nature’s Calendar came into budburst and first leaf earlier than the benchmark year. At this time of year ash and beech, as well as the English pedunculate oak and the sessile oak come into budburst. Alder, field maple, horse chestnut, rowan and sycamore will come into first leaf and the silver birch will move through budburst, first leaf and flowering all in one month. Click on the link to watch the English oak budburst https://youtu.be/xJegxaEaPz4
Star shaped wood anemone flowers are a sign of ancient woodlands and bloom early, when the leafless canopy lets in the spring light. A member of the buttercup family, the Romans picked the flowers as a lucky charm to prevent fevers. Also known as windflower, in folklore they were fairy homes, which is why the petals close at night and droop to protect the fairies from the cold rain.
Another early flower is cuckooflower which is also known as lady’s smock, milkmaids and fairy flower after the cupped shape of the pale pink flowers. They can be found in damp grasslands, along riverbanks and around ponds.
What you can see in your garden
You may not be able to get out at the moment, but here are some of the spring changes to look out your window or in your gardens for. Birds are getting busier: robins will be pairing up, blue tits and great tits will be building their nests, while blackbirds will start feeding their young. Seven spot ladybirds, who’ve spent the winter hibernating among plants or in our sheds will start to emerge and mate from now until May and were first seen 34 days earlier than the benchmark year. Their name symbolises the ‘lady’ (the Virgin Mary), her red coat and their spots represent her seven joys and sorrows.
You can find out more on the Nature’s Calendar website.
By Jane Halliday
*Nature’s Calendar is a citizen science project run by the Woodland Trust and the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology to study phenology (the impact of seasonal changes in plants and animals).
The Nature’s Calendar citizen science project will continue to run during the coronavirus pandemic, but please only record at home. Find out what you can record from the view from your window or in your garden. If you are already a recorder please do not feel obliged to continue recording at this difficult time. No one will be letting us by down by not recording.