I thought that Spring had sprung a few weeks ago when the sun seemed to be warmer and there seemed to be some flowers, such as the Winter Aconites appearing. I guess I should have taken a hint from their name, and realised that it was, in fact, still Winter. The weather this week has been pretty wet and pretty changeable, and I think that some of the signs of Spring are perhaps a little later this year – or maybe it just feels that way.
My first definite sound of Spring is usually the sound of the chiffchaff. I went to the Country Park last Sunday and heard two of them calling away, and left with a big grin on my face. I had been expecting to hear them on the old railway track on my way to work this week, but it has been strangely silent (in terms of chiffchaffs). However, I did hear one on the way back from town yesterday so, all is right with the world. Looking back 12 months, it wasn’t until the end of March last year that I first heard them, so maybe things are not out of sync after all. Other birds are also singing away, most noticeably the wrens. These tiny birds manage to make quite a lot of noise, and, at this time of year are sitting more conspicuously on bare tree branches, advertising their presence. There were concerns that the cold winter may have dramatically reduced their numbers, but there seemed to be quite a number singing yesterday.
Although I saw my first butterfly over a week ago, I haven’t seen any since. However, there are quite a number of bumblebees out foraging and the occasional honey bee (quite a few were frequenting the anenome blanda at Ryton last week). At first glance it would appear that there is not much about for them at the moment, so it is probably just as well the numbers are small. I haven’t seen any celandines in flower as yet (although I spotted a few on a sunny bank that looked as though they were tempted) and the blackthorn seems late – the first flowers are out in the hedgerows on the sunny sides of the street, but the old railway track is a bit bereft. However, there are quite a few flowers in the gardens for them – my hellebores are now flowering well, there are lots of daffodils about as well as the aforementioned anenomes, and there are still some flowering heather in a few places.
I also noticed that the germander speedwell (treated as a weed by many gardeners) is now starting to flower. I quite like the pretty blue flowers which remind me of the Summer sky, which is a blessing when it is actually covered in black cloud! This is quite a common plant in the wild and in gardens, and provides an early source of nectar for some solitary bees. It was also apparently used in herbal medicines at one time to treat coughs and catarrh.
Has Spring started to make an appearance where you are?
Well, they’re back. They may be small and not much to look at, but the chiffchaff’s repetitive call for me is THE sign that spring is here. I heard my first one of the year this morning and it certainly put a spring in my step (no pun intended).
I have been thinking recently that autumn was well on its way and I might as well say goodbye to Summer. The rose hips, particularly the rosa rugosa are now very red, the rowans are covered in red berries, during the week the sun gets up after I do (although there have been some days where I am think it may have stayed in bed) and the call of the chiffchaff has been replaced by the steady tic tic noise of the robin as I walk to work.
However, maybe I have been a bit hasty in this assumption. Yesterday, the Country Park was teeming with swallows, house martins and terns. OK, so maybe they are massing and preparing to be off, but they are not gone yet. Last week I was surprised to hear a chiffchaff calling as I walked to work, again, he may have been heading south, but it was still a reassuring noise.
Whilst the damp (understatement?) weather has brought some fungi out there are still some flowers at the roadsides and in the hedgerows, primarily achillea and white nettle-like flowers, but they are there nonetheless, providing an additional source of food for the bees which are still about in good-ish numbers whenever there is a letup in the rain.
Also at the Country Park yesterday, amidst the blackbirds and thrushes feeding on the glistening black elderberries were a pair of blackcaps – more Summer warblers that are still about. So, maybe the last observation doesn’t count, I have seen an increasing number of blackcaps overwintering around here, but they are still a bird that I primarily associate with Summer, and for now I am sticking with that thought!
OK, so maybe it is obvious to most people that it is now spring, but some of us have our own signs that the season has changed (for me Winter comes with the arrival of goosanders). So, the clocks have gone forward, the daffodils are out and, yesterday, so was the sun, and it was warm, but to me, the telltale sign of spring occurred this morning on my way to work. It was the sound of a chiffchaff calling. I stopped to listen and make sure, but there really is no mistaking the call of a chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita).
According to the Bird Guides website which has pictures and more information about the chiffchaff, the best way to distinguish this little brown job from the equally small and brown Willow Warbler is by its black legs. In my experience I rarely see one before I have heard it and the call is enough to distinguish it from anything else.
I have seen them in Winter, but they usually return to nest in Spring, the ones landing in these shores are thought to have wintered in southern Europe and Africa. So, the next time you are out and about listen for the call of one of the earlier and most vociferous migrants to these shores.