English Bluebells

Native English bluebells in flower.

A warm spell in April has brought spring flowers into bloom across the farm and both the trees and understory have filled with new green foliage. Spring is now well underway. Now is a great time to take a closer look at the trees and their extraordinary blossoms which range from the tiny wind-pollinated ash flowers to the showy, scented blossoms of the insect-pollinated wild cherry and bird cherry trees.

Bumblebee

Buff-tailed bumblebee

As the farm fills with spring flowers, their pollinators are also stirring. Hoverflies and bumblebees can be found visiting the blossoms of trees and the flowers of white dead nettles and cow parsley. Most of the bumblebees about are large queens, who are emerging from hibernation and preparing to establish new colonies. Butterflies can also be seen on warm days. Some of these butterflies have overwintered as adults, while others are only now emerging as adults having spent the winter as caterpillars or chrysalises.

Bee-fly

We have also spotted a few bee-flies on the farm. These fascinating bee mimics may look like bumblebees, but are in fact flies. Female bee-flies follow female solitary bees to their nests, then lay their own eggs near the nest. When these eggs hatch, the young parasitise the bee larvae. Like bees, the adults feed on nectar and can be spotted on early spring flowers. The tops of cow parsley flowers are also a great place to look for small beetles and crab spiders, who feed on small flies and gnats that visit the flowers.

Down on the ponds, the frog spawn we spotted last month has likely hatched and the young tadpoles should be rapidly growing alongside the larvae of mayflies, damselflies and dragonflies. We haven’t spotted many newts yet, but smooth newts will also be breeding at this time of year, with males growing tall crests to impress the females during their elaborate underwater courtship. On warm, sunny days, keep an eye out for female newts near the surface as they lay their gelatinous eggs on vegetation in the water.

Many birds are now building their nests. As we walked around the farm, we saw robins hurriedly flying past with their beaks filled with nesting material. The earliest nesters will already be incubating their clutches or even rearing young chicks. Keep an eye out for birds with caterpillars and other insect prey in their beaks in the coming month, as these are an important source of protein for rapidly growing chicks. Our walk around the farm was filled with birds singing including blackcaps, robins and great tits, promising signs for our upcoming Dawn Chorus walk (Sunday, May 5th) during which we hope to hear black caps, blackbirds, robins, song thrushes, great tits, dunnocks, wrens, whitethroats, blue tits and more! In addition to birds who are settling locally to breed, we also spotted swallows passing overhead as they continue North from their wintering grounds in sub-Saharan Africa.

While Spring may have had a bit of a late start, it is certainly in full swing now and May looks to be a month filled with activity. Enjoy the photos on the next page and we hope you will join us over the early May bank holiday for a Dawn Chorus walk on the morning of Sunday, May 5th.

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We had a very exciting day at the farm last week, when the BBC came to do a feature on house sparrows. Did you know they have declined by 80%? We have a small population at the farm who have found the hedges to be of suitable habitat. The children pictured were filmed making bird boxes. The programme will be broadcast in August and more information will follow.


Ice and snow

Ice and snow on spring foliage.

As we approach the end of March, it is still feeling rather wintry. Snow and ice remain on the ground, despite the arrival of spring. With freezing temperatures and more snow predicted, we can only hope for warmer, more season typical temperatures in the coming month. The cold weather has meant that we have not seen too many developments from last month, but if you look carefully, there are certainly a few more signs that spring is on its way. All around the farm, daffodils have come into flower and in the past week we’ve spotted frogspawn on the ponds, despite the freezing temperatures.

We are also starting to see a change in bird life as winter migrants such as redwings and fieldfares begin to leave the UK to return further North, and birds who have wintered further South such as chiffchaffs, blackcaps and whitethroats are returning to the UK after a winter spent enjoying the warmer climates of Southern Europe and Africa. For many birds, nest building is well underway, timed for baby birds to hatch as spring brings new foliage and insects (a protein rich, baby bird food). As you walk through the farm, you may notice more birds singing as they defend their territories and spot adult birds of all species carrying nesting materials in their beaks as they construct their nests. The number and variety of birds singing will be increasing over April as more migrant birds return to breed in Britain and we are approaching the best time of year to listen in on this incredible chorus. Join us next month for a May dawn chorus walk to discover more about the birds breeding here at Mudchute (details coming soon).

As temperatures rise, keep an eye out for more early spring flowers making their debut, including bluebells towards the end of April and the delicate white flowers of cow parsley. With these flowers come pollinators in the form of butterflies, flies and bees, who will be busy taking advantage of these early flowers on warm days. See more photos of what to watch this April on the next page.

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