I can't make up my mind whether we are experiencing an early spring or not. The reason for my confusion is that following the mildest winter on record, the Vernal Equinox was actually quite miserable. Certainly , as I write in mid April, it has been very dry but the plant indicators I normally use to gage the onset of spring are confusing me. Many of the garden plants had blooms throughout the winter, yet the snowdrops were slightly later than last year. Celandine and Violets were only slightly earlier than usual, but in the local woods the Bluebells are already starting to bloom. The early emerging butterflies such as Brimstones were abundant by early March and the sunny days, out of the wind, has lured out ragged looking Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells from hibernation. Small White's appeared at the beginning of April at least two weeks early and there seem to be plenty of bumblebees about.
Yet where are all the migrant birds? Chiffchaffs were earlier again this year following a trend but how many of these were members of the not so exclusive club that now over-winter in Britain? My wife was lucky to see a Swallow on telegraph wires by Rippingale village school on the 29th March but that was really the exception. I rushed around at the end of March determined to clock in some early migrants but I could not even locate a Sand Martin until April 3rd , when I also saw my first Swallows. The first Blackcap appeared in Temple Wood on April 6th and my first Lincolnshire Willow Warbler not until April 8th, all of which I had before the end of March last year. Even now migrants are only trickling in but my early morning drive to work was brightened yesterday by a splendid male Wheatear flicking it's tail as it surveyed the Lincolnshire farmland from the top of a low straw sack. This bird will be on it's way back to it's moor or mountain breeding grounds, perhaps as close as the Peak District or maybe as far north as the Arctic Circle.
As well as emerging butterflies the spring sunshine brings out our resident reptiles too. Kirkby Moor Nature Reserve, near Kirkby on Bain is excellent for most species and it is worth joining The Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust to support such gems and gain access to over 100 reserves throughout the county. The spring sunshine is sufficient to entice snakes and lizards to bask but if it is not too hot they are still fairly torpid and less likely to disappear at the first sound of your footfalls.
The photographs of Adders and Slow Worms were both taken at Kirkby Moor in March with a standard lens. I managed to get within a foot of the Adder to photograph it, but if it is warmer and they are a bit more lively it might be prudent to put a little more distance between you and our only venomous snake. If Kirkby Moor is a bit too far for you Temple Wood and Bourne Wood both have Grass Snakes and Common Lizards and a visit to Temple Wood last weekend produced 3 Common Lizards on the edge of a path.
Migrant waders are just beginning to return to our shores, and late April and May should see an increase in numbers. Avocets (see photograph) are amongst the earliest to return to Lincolnshire, the majority only having wintered in Devon and Cornwall. The RSPB reserve at Frieston Shore near Boston is the easiest place to see them, with the hide giving excellent views. A high tide visit often sees hundreds of waders roosting in the lagoon right in front of the hide. Amongst the usual Dunlin, Redshank and Ringed Plovers, rarer species such as Little Stint and Curlew Sandpiper are quite regular and real vagrants such as White-rumped Sandpiper and Pectoral Sandpiper are almost annual visitors. Closer to home the local gravel pits between here and Peterborough will host a variety of waders. A short visit to Baston last week produced Green Sandpiper , Lapwings, Oystercatcher and Redshank but there will be a lot more to come.
Talking of Lapwings, the local fens now host several breeding pairs, mainly on set-aside land. Their tumbling display flight and peculiar calls evoke spring for me.
Our local fens may look like arable deserts but I seldom visit them without seeing some good wildlife. Brown Hares are common but a recent visit to Dunsby Fen produced a Fallow Deer some miles from the nearest wood. Barn Owls and Little Owls are fairly common and Kestrels are constantly in view. Watch out for larger raptors too. Buzzards now breed in the fens and over a 12 month period I have seen just about every bird of prey you can expect to find in Lincolnshire (and some you might not expect) right on our doorstep!
All our deer seem to be on the increase. Between Rippingale and my office near Lincoln I now regularly see Roe Deer. This species seems to be colonising the county from the north and two seen in Temple Wood over winter, are in my book a welcome addition to our local fauna. After all they are native to these shores unlike the diminutive Muntjac and , arguably, the Fallow Deer. If only we could get Red Squirrels back!
Badgers too must have increased dramatically if the number of corpses on our roads are any indication. Seven dead Badgers between Bourne and Rippingale only a few weeks ago left me wondering if cubs, born in February were orphaned and starving to death in their setts.
Well to finish this piece where I started, our farmers certainly feel it is an early spring. The soil is in an ideal condition for cultivation and drilling, but I am concerned that some farmers have been tempted to drill their forage maize too early. Soil temperatures are still quite low particularly in land that is being ploughed rather than direct drilled, and previous experience has shown that maize drilled even a month later in warmer soils will often come to harvest sooner and out-yield earlier sown seed.
Finally, whether you think it is early, late or just normal, enjoy the spring and make the most of the longer days. I certainly will!
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