Spring highlights

Sorry it’s taken me so long to post a new blog post on here but I’m not the most adept computer user and I try to get outside as much as I possibly can, even if it means that my posts are several months late!

After a record-breaking wet winter here in Wales, spring has come in with a whimper.  Some daffodils and primroses were in flower in December, more than two months earlier than usual, but most wild flowers emerged at their expected time. I didn’t see my first queen bumblebee until early March and frogspawn here in the cold hollow of the upper Severn Valley doesn’t appear until late February at the earliest.

Rooks, grey herons and tawny owls are incubating their eggs as I write and this morning on a local Wildlife Trust nature reserve, it was a real pleasure to watch a pair of great crested grebes indulging in one of the most stunning courtship displays nature has to offer.  Something else to look out for in early spring is the colourful scarlet elf cup, a bright red fungus that grows on rotting branches on damp woodland floors.

Over the next few weeks, the leaves will burst forth onto our trees and shrubs, the flowers of lesser celandine and primroses will be replaced by bluebells and wood anemones, most of our common garden birds will be nesting and early migrants such as chiffchaff, wheatear and sand martins will be joined by swallows, pied flycatchers and, hopefully a few cuckoos. Spring is without any doubt my favourite season, an exciting time of rebirth when the whole countryside comes alive.

Looking back

2015 has been an interesting and varied year for wildlife encounters and one of the most wonderful aspects for me has been exploring new areas. In May and early June, I was up in Caithness, Orkney and Shetland for Springwatch and my first ever encounter with orcas was memorable for many reasons, not least tumbling head over heels on camera!

It was a rare treat to be able to spend a day with wildlife cameraman Raymond Besant filming breeding hen harriers on the Orkney moors. These magnificent birds are mercilessly persecuted on so many English and Scottish moors that Orkney acts as a refuge for around 80 breeding females. Watching a male skydancing or passing food to the incubating female is one of the real highlights of British wildlife watching.

Just as memorable was a visit to the RSPB’s Arne reserve in Dorset in July to seek out two species of spider. The wasp spider, a beautiful white, yellow and black creature, first colonised the UK from the continent in 1922 and has spread slowly north and west. The raft spider, on the other hand, is a large, native arachnid that lives around the edges of ponds and swamps therefore Arne’s wetlands are ideal for it.

In 2015, I was also able to fulfil a dream I have had since childhood, to see a large blue butterfly in the UK. Due to loss of habitat, it became extinct in the British Isles in 1979 but has subsequently been successfully reintroduced to several suitable sites in the south of England. In early July, I visited a site in the south Cotswolds and was delighted to see several of these stunning insects feeding on wild thyme in bright sunshine. A memorable day!