Finally, finally, things are awakening after an extended winter slumber. It’s been a long haul, but nature is now bursting rapidly into life to make up for lost time. This morning I counted the calls of 24 different birds around the loch. Here’s my take on how some of their songs sound. See how many you recognise next time you’re out:
Blackbird – series of varied, musical phrases
Song thrush – quite a similar tone but repeats each note or phrase two or three times
Mistle thrush – loud, strident, melancholy series of high pitched phrases
Wren – explosive and rapid, very loud for its size
Robin – wistful, plaintive
Dunnock – thin, rather tuneless but nevertheless quite sweet warbling
Great tit – see-saw, see-saw, see-saw
Coat tit – like great tit but higher pitched
Chaffinch – a rollicking cadence with a terminal flourish (that’s actually how it was described in my very first bird book when I was 5 years old!). It’s spot on.
Willow warbler – sweet twittering, always descending in pitch
Chiffchaff – chiff, chiff, chiff etc
Blackcap – very sweet, mellow bursts of varied song
All birds have a variety of calls as well as their main song. It’s been established that great tits have at least 64 different vocalisations. I have friends with fewer than that!
The last three birds on that list are among the first of our summer visitors to return. Others will be streaming in any day soon.
Meanwhile the great crested grebes are courting in their beautiful breeding plumage and the female swan, having found a new partner, is incubating eggs again. Male birds are at their most colourful – and thus attractive to females – at this time of year. For example, a male chaffinch displays a dazzlingly bright array of shades.
Non-photoshopped male chaffinch (sadly, this one appears to have a diseased foot)
The late spring delayed the appearance of wild flowers but coltsfoot appeared more or less on cue. The yellow flowers of this member of the daisy family are, like dandelions and blackthorn blossom, an important nectar source for early emerging bees and hoverflies.
The hoverfly Meliscaeva auricollis nectaring on blackthorn blossom
One of the first insects to appear once the temperature rises in April is the bee-fly. This wee bundle of fur flies from flower to flower, extracting nectar with its needle-like proboscis like a tiny hummingbird. Cute they may be but they have a rather gruesome life cycle. The female deposits her eggs into the nests of certain types of bee. Once hatched, the larva attaches itself to a bee larva, slowly sucks out its bodily fluids and eventually kills it. This kind of behaviour is not unusual in the world of invertebrates!
This year we are intent on finding out more about the flora and fauna living around the loch, building species lists and tailoring management of the site to look after them and hopefully increase the biodiversity too. Local moth expert Gerald Lincoln recently held the first of a series of intensive moth-trapping events (don’t worry – all moths are released again unhurt!).
Repeating this several times throughout the year will give us a good idea of the range of different species that live here. This first effort produced 16 species and it was interesting to see that they included some that we know will have woken from hibernation and others that had just emerged from a pupa, or chrysalis. Everyone loves butterflies for their beautiful colours and patterns, but many moths are pretty stunning too. Two such that we saw are the herald and the streamer (they have great names as well!). As the spring turns to summer the range and numbers will snowball. My own personal record is over 400 moths of 85 different species in a single trap!
Talking of hibernation, how nice to see small tortoiseshell and peacock butterflies emerging from that very long winter!
The next few weeks are really exciting for wildlife watchers, with new species appearing almost daily. I’ll be back soon with more to share with you.