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.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.
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.