The topic for this week must surely be the wonderful mild spring weather, which is turning the countryside green. It is normally April before we see the leaves on shrubs such as Hawthorn and Elder with even the deciduous Larch coming into leaf.
I always love looking for the first tiny red flowers on the Hazels, and I spotted them for the first time on the February 26. Already, the Snowdrops and Crocuses are virtually finished with the daffodils taking over plus all the primulas, including the wild Primroses. Bumblebees are enjoying the yellow catkins on the Willows, and Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock butterflies have many more flowers from which to collect nectar than usual.
Look out for the possibility of a Red Admiral or a Painted Lady appearing after attempting to spend the winter with us as complete butterflies. Only once have I ever seen a Red Admiral on the wing in February in Scotland, and I have never seen a February/March Painted Lady but with the very mild winter we have just had, you never know.
The amount of bird song is equally as evident as the sprouting buds with Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Robins, Dunnocks and especially Wrens in full voice. I say “especially Wrens” because for the past two springs, this species has been badly hit by very hard, long winters but this spring I have been hearing the rapid, churring song in many places. This song is one of the fastest in the bird world with the most notes being recorded in the shortest period.
The temperatures recently, of around 17 degrees Celsius, have been warmer than some of the Mediterranean islands. The geese, ducks and waders, which have been wintering in and around the SWT Montrose Basin may start their migration northwards a bit earlier than usual because of these high temperatures. Many of them will be heading for Iceland where normally the breeding areas are not fully exposed until late April; so, here’s hoping, that they delay their departure a little longer.
Talking of migration, several Lesser Black-backed Gulls are back with us along with Gannets which may have spent the winter around the Mediterranean coasts. Also, the little Chiffchaff has been spotted at the Bridge of Dun where I normally see my first Sand Martins of the year. Ospreys, too, will be well on their way to Scotland from West Africa, and may stop off at the Basin for a quick ‘flounder’. These birds have usually returned to the SWT Loch of the Lowes by the end of this month. Will the same elderly female bird return this year I wonder?
Hedgehogs and bats will be aware of the rising temperatures, and will be stirring. Our frogs have been busy; so if you look in ditches along forestry rides, you may well see some spawn. Toads also will be making their annual pilgrimage to the pond where they were hatched, and on damp evenings we will have to be aware of them crossings roads.
I learned from a TV programme that, amazingly, these amphibians can live for up to 14 years. This means that each female will lay countless thousands of eggs. You can distinguish the eggs of frogs from toads as the former has the jelly mass and the latter has a long string of eggs.
It is always worth having a walk over at the Mains of Dun end of the Reserve by parking in the small car park there. There are still good numbers of Whooper Swans to be seen plus the chance of Grey Partridge and Brown Hares. March is the time for them to ‘box’. Seemingly, it is not two ‘bucks’ fighting but a female seeing off the advances of a male.
There will be events taking place very soon at the Wildlife Centre, including ‘Who Lives in a Nest like this?’ on April 4, a Family Fun Day on April 7 and ‘Mud, Glorious Mud’ on April 11. If you are interested in these children’s events, please call 01674 676336.
Russell G Nisbet – teacher/naturalist