The first week of May.

At the end of April it was easy to be fooled into thinking that Summer was just around the corner.  This week has reminded me just how variable the British weather can be.  Whilst it has not been completely full of grey skies and gloom, I was a bit put out to see the hail come pouring down on several occasions – still ’twas a Bank Holiday Monday.

But, before I get too melancholic (also note, I will be complaining if it is too hot in the Summer, should we get one), I still found plenty of new things this week (new for the year, I am not claiming to have made any exciting discoveries).

On the insect front, the weather has made it pretty dismal, orange tip butterflies still taunt me when I have no camera handy, but otherwise I have not seen many insects about.  There are still some bees foraging, workers as well as queens, and a few wasps to be seen.

As far as flowers go, it appears everything is awash with dandelions and daisies, and, it seems the first dandelions have set seed already.  One flower that is also adding some colour is Herb Robert (Geranium Robertianum), a cransebill that grows in hedgerows.  This plant was used in medieval times for its medicinal properties, being used as a remedy for nosebleeds and toothache as well as dysentry.  The leaves, if rubbed on the skin, apparently repel mosquitoes, which I am not surprised by.  This plant often turns up in the garden, and, if you pull it up and are not wearing gloves, its not very pleasant smell stays with you for some time.  Whilst it is supposed to attract many insects, I must confess that I do not like to leave it in my garden as it does self seed quite prolifically.

Speaking of gardens, my beans are growing quite well now after the threat of moving them indoors.  The lemon balm is providing plenty of leaves for herbal teas and the bluebells are flowering well, showing up particularly in the less than ideal light we have had over the last week.

However, it is the bird news that I find most exciting this week.  On Sunday, a visit to the Country Park showed that the terns were back.  Although there were plenty of swifts, swallows and house martins there did not seem to be any sign of the hobbies that often hunt them at this time of year.  However, a check of Northants Bird Sightings seemed to suggest that the hobbies were back and some of those terns may have been arctic terns, unless they were being frightened off by the peregrine!  I sometimes think my timing may be a little off!  In the garden we have had two young blackbirds around, and I can say with certainty that there are young in the starling’s nest in the gutter outside my window!  I also heard and then saw my first blackcap of the year on the old railway track.  I am trying to improve my recognition of birdsong, the blackcap sounds a little like a robin, but more ‘burbling’.

All in all, considering the weather, it does not appear to have been too bad a week.

Winter Visitors

Female Blackcap
Female Blackcap

Not long ago Winter visitors seen in gardens were usually siskins, bramblings, redwings or fieldfares.  However, over the last few years there have been more sightings of warblers during the Winter months.  One of the more commonly spotted birds is a blackcap and, the reason that I am writing this post today is because, not only did I spot one in my garden, but, I also managed to take a photo of her.

It is thought (in common with many of the birds seen in the garden in Winter) that these are birds from Germany and Austria and that the British penchant for garden bird feeders has allowed them to travel a shorter distance and stop in the UK rather than flying to Spain.

I have even seen a recent blog post which claims that the migrants with the shorter trip are evolving into a different sub species as they all arrive back in Germany about 10 days before those wintering in Spain and therefore tend to breed together.  Those flying longer distances to Spain have more pointed wings suitable for longer distance flying and rounder bills for eating olives when they get there.

Whatever the reasons for them staying, I am still excited if I spot one in the Winter (or any time of year for that matter).

The soundtrack has changed.

Someone has stolen all the robins and thrushes!  It occurred to me the other day that I no longer here the song thrush in the morning on my way to work.  Then I thought a bit more and realised there were no robins either.    Then one morning I woke up earlier than usual and heard the thrush (even through the double glazing – note to self, get double glazing changed).  The song thrush sings just before it gets light, unfortunately I am too lazy to get up at that time once we get past February and so I miss his solo performance.

Now the tune has changed and I am treated to the calls of chaffinches, blue tits and great tits.  It won’t be long before the blackcaps and chiffchaffs are adding to the chorus line.  I know that chiffchaffs have been heard in the area, and I was lucky enough to have a blackcap in the garden on last Saturday (strangely enough the day after I had 5 siskins, traditionally winter visitors, on the seed feeder).  I managed to catch the grumpy little chap on camera, unfortunately, though, not the siskins.

Early Male Blackcap
One sound of Spring that I am still missing is the sound of the frogs in the pond.  Alas, I fear there will be no frogspawn this year.

Is there a sound that you particularly associate with the coming of Spring?

Is it too soon to say farewell to Summer?

Early Morning Robin on Fence 


Early Morning Robin on Fence

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.

Rosa Rugosa Hip

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.

Elder Berries

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!