Spring in Derbyshire is a great time of year to be outside looking at nature
- Credit: Peter Cairns/2020VISION
Spring can be fitful. One day it is warm and sunny and the first butterflies are out, the next it is wet and cold and it feels is if we’re back in winter. However, wildlife can adapt to these changes and as the spring months start, we see our landscape come alive and brimming full of colour.
If you have a garden, then it may well be plants starting to flower or putting out early leaves that first make you realise spring is on the way. In the wild, early flowers to look out for include sweet violets, primroses and lesser celandines as well as hazel and pussy willow catkins. The yellow flowers of the pussy willow attract small beetles and bumblebees and they are a magnet for the first chiffchaffs returning from the south.
Many birds return to our shores in early spring. Swallows and house martins spend winter as far south as South Africa, so have long journeys and start moving back as early as February, arriving here in big numbers in mid-April.
Bird watchers often keep an eye out for the wheatear in the White Peaks, where they can be seen on the limestone hillsides searching for insects to replenish themselves after their nocturnal flights north. In the Dark Peak, the ring ouzel signals the return of warmth to the moorlands. A close cousin of our blackbird, it has a white bib that is especially prominent in the males. Sadly, their numbers are declining rapidly and they are becoming harder to spot each year.
Perhaps the most iconic spring migrant is the osprey and the use of satellite tags has enabled us to follow individual birds to and from their wintering quarters in West Africa in amazing detail.
Some older birds return before the end of March, keen to reclaim their old nests and territories. This spring, hopes are again high that a young male osprey searching for a new, unused territory might settle on one of the artificial nest platforms erected by Derbyshire Wildlife Trust. Osprey’s are nesting in nearby counties so this is entirely possible and an extremely exciting prospect. If one could attract a mate and breed it would be cause for celebration – it’s over 100 years since this magnificent raptor has bred in the county.
Don’t forget either to look out for butterflies and bumblebees. The first butterfly species to appear are often those that hibernate as adults, such as the bright yellow brimstone. The butterfly hides away deep in thick ivy through the winter, emerging when the temperature begins to rise and there are flowers for it to nectar on. As for bumblebees, queens will emerge from their hibernation searching for a suitable nesting site, often having spent the winter months in the soil. Sadly, many species are in steep decline but a few more resilient and adaptable species, such as the buff-tailed bumblebee, can be seen at this time of year.
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The activity in ponds starts to heat up as frogs, toads and newts emerge from hibernation. Frogs are the first to take the plunge and make their way back to the ponds in which they will spawn, always making the journey back under the cover of darkness. Toads will return to the same ancestral breeding ground.
As the days get longer, hedgehogs emerge to feed. As with amphibians, their numbers have dropped dramatically. Putting out food and making hedgehog-sized holes in garden fencing so they can get around are great ways to help them out.
By early May, most summer migrant birds have returned with just a few latecomers, such as swifts, yet to arrive. Swifts often nest in our homes using tiny holes under eaves. As older properties are renovated, these holes can be blocked which can cause a problem for the birds. Adding nest boxes to your house is a great help.
It is a great time of year to get outdoors and look at nature.
Derbyshire Wildlife Trust wants to see a ‘Wilder Derbyshire’. To find out how to help visit: derbyshirewildlifetrust.org.uk/take-action-wilder-future.