Nature Quest: First signs of spring

Carpet of snowdrops, Rococo GardensI almost feel my latest Nature Quest blog has come a little late… ‘First signs of spring’ has today turned into ‘could be mistaken for thinking it was summer’. An afternoon fossil hunting on a beach in nearly 20 degree heat, wearing a T-shirt and shorts, with birds singing and the occasional butterfly fluttering around, and it felt more like May than early March!

However, it’s a time of year when winter can return in an instant and the bare, wintry trees testify to the fact that spring is still only in its early stages. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been out and about looking for the first telltale signs that the new season is finally on its way. Here are a few thoughts on what the onset of spring means to me.

FIRST FLOWERS AND BURSTING BUDS

Snowdrops Daffodils Bluebells starting to come up

For me, one of the first signs that winter might be losing its grip is the appearance of the first wildflowers. Snowdrops are usually the first to appear, and with them comes the one thing that, for me, sums up what spring is all about: Hope. Hope that the dark, cold days of winter won’t go on forever, that sunlight, warmth and life will return and that summer is more than just a distant memory.

I was lucky enough to see wonderful carpets of snowdrops a few weeks ago at Rococo Gardens in Gloucestershire, but it’s amazing how far spring has come in the two short weeks since then. Carpets of daffodils are now everywhere, and in the woodlands wild garlic, dog’s mercury and bluebells are beginning to push their way up through the leaf litter.

Although most trees are still looking bare, many leaves are starting to emerge from their buds, and hedgerows near me are currently decorated with beautiful white blossom.

Woodland beginning to come back to life Blossom starting to emerge

Wild garlic starting to growPerhaps what touches us most about these signs of new life is that they always seem such a miracle – everything looks dead and lifeless at first glance, but the life is there just waiting to spring up!

BIRDSONG

RobinThere’s nothing that lifts the heart quite so much as the increase in birdsong at this time of year. As birds start preparing to nest, they sing to defend their territories and attract a mate. In the last week, I’ve been waking up to a dawn chorus, with song thrushes, wrens, robins, blackbirds, chaffinches and tits all joining in. Today they were also joined by a singing blackcap – for me, a sound very reminiscent of summer!

Herons and little egret at heronry, RSPB Middleton Lakes

MARVELLOUS MIGRANTS

In my opinion, it’s not really spring until I’ve heard the first chiffchaff sing. Although a few have overwintered here, it’s the migrants returning from Africa and starting to sing that I feel make it officially spring. Hopefully it won’t be long before willow warblers, reed and sedge warblers, swallows and other iconic summer visitors also arrive and begin to breed! On the flip side, spring is also a time to say farewell to winter visitors, such as winter wildfowl.

Bulrushes in reedbed Stonechat at Middleton Lakes

MORE LIGHT AND A BIT OF WARMTH… Hopefully!

There’s nothing like the feeling you get when the days start to lengthen and the sun’s rays feel warm again. Of course, in the UK you can never guarantee what sort of weather any season will bring. One moment it can be warm and sunny, the next you can be plunged into a snowy winter wonderland. Last year it seemed that spring would never come, whereas this year, despite the awful rain and floods of the winter, it’s been unusually mild and I’ve not once had to put on my thick winter coat.

Sunshine on the first spring-like day of the year, RSPB Middleton Lakes Warm March sunshine over the River Severn

Mixture of rain clouds and blue sky, Middleton Lakes Changeable weather - warm sun to rain shower in just a few minutes

Although the past few days have been wonderfully warm and sunny, I’m under no illusions that winter may not have had its final say. However, once spring has started to arrive it can advance pretty rapidly, which is one reason why I wanted to set one of my “Nature Quest” challenges to be making sure I got out and witnessed its very earliest signs.

At the moment, I feel like some flowers I saw a few days ago… just emerging, their faces turned towards the weak spring sun as if to soak up all the new, precious warmth they could, while they could, all the while hopeful that despite the chill in the air, the longer days of summer are not too far away…

Sunshine and reeds, Middleton Lakes

OVER TO YOU!

It will be no time at all before spring is in full swing. So why not get outside, enjoy any warm sunshine while you can (or even enjoy a frosty or rainy day!), and look out for the telltale signs of its arrival?

Over recent years, spring has been arriving earlier and earlier in the UK – you can find out more about this on the Nature’s Calendar website. By recording your spring sightings, you can help scientists to track how our seasons are changing.

WHAT ARE YOUR FAVOURITE THINGS ABOUT SPRING?

When I asked this question on Twitter, these are some of the responses I got:

“@beccastweet: the beginning of bird song. Coming out and hearing them all chatter away, can’t help but smile!”

“@TheLilacGrove: hearing first chiffchaff of the year and of course, the emergence of hedeghogs :-)”

“@TigerGaret: lengthening days and birds singing :-)”

“@anitateague: Seeing the Summer migrants come back. (Especially Ospreys).”

“@MeganShersby: More warmth (bad circulation in hands/feet so warmth is amazing!), more light and interesting changes in wildlife”

What about you – what is your favourite sign of spring? Lambs in the fields? Birdsong? The first frogspawn? Why not add a comment here and let me know, or send me a tweet @lillashaw using the hashtag #naturequest!

Enjoy your spring!

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3 thoughts on “Nature Quest: First signs of spring

  1. I love to take the geraniums out of their winter quarters and see if they have survived another winter. They have. All look perky and bright on the garden table soaking up the sun. Lovely post Liz. You inspire me to get out more.

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