Exploring With My Camera Trap Spring 2021

After I click open the file on my camera trap, I press next through a male pheasant strutting his stuff and a female roe deer passing through, until a photo makes me stop. There towards the back of the shot are two small brown shapes. I move through the rest of the photos as day passes into night, and watch as these two rough and tumble through the photos, exploring, playing and watching their wild neighbours go past, ending with one sitting stock still in front of the camera. My camera trap had successfully found my first litter of fox cubs of the year!

The last few years I have become known for my exploration of my family’s farm in Dorset using a camera trap. My camera trap allows me to delve into the lives of my wild neighbours without intrusion or disturbance of their natural behaviour, and to use my photos to inspire others to open their eyes and be motivated to conserve our local wildlife. It is always a rollercoaster of emotions, never knowing what my camera trap might find, but in the end it is a very rewarding experience. If you are interested in getting your own camera trap or knowing how to make the most of your own, check out my ‘How to… Use and Make the Most of a Camera Trap’ guide for some more information.

My camera trap has been a very useful tool for me over the last few years, so since 2019 I have spent my spring seasons moving my camera trap around different sites across 250 acres of farmland, taking in different species and behaviour. In 2019, I saw 12 species of birds and mammals, including families of badgers and a family of three fox cubs. In 2020, my camera trapping got even more interesting, with badger cubs, a couple of litters of fox cubs, and lots of roe deer sightings. The most enjoyable shots are always the most unexpected though, despite from time to time getting a photo bomber or two, for example in the form of our farm cat!

This spring I have been out and about once again on the farm with my camera trap. This year I selected six different sites across our land, with the hope of capturing some of the normal sights, along with some new ones. As the spring has now come to an end, activity has dropped across these sites, and thus it is time to see how spring has been captured by my camera trap this year.

Camera Trapping Spring 2021

Quarry Field Badger Sett

My first camera trapping site this year was an active badger sett to the east of my family’s land. It sits between a silage field and a maize field in a wide and thick hedgerow, and is a great crossroads for animals passing through. I have used this site in previous years for camera trapping, with varying success, such as last year’s highlights of badger cubs and a lively, lone fox cub.

This year I set my camera trap up at the sett for a week (3rd-10th April), moving the position and angle every other day to increase my chances of capturing wildlife. It paid off as I had a successful first week, with rabbits, roe deer, badgers, and a fox.

Due to seeing a lone fox cub at this site last year, the presence of an adult fox at the sett once again led me to return with my camera trap seven weeks later for another week (27th May-1st June). My hunch paid off as my camera trap returned photos of two fox cubs playing, living alongside a badger family, and being fed by a parent.

Gill Hill Copse

For my next site, I set my camera trap up within a copse surrounded by a cow grazing field west of the Quarry Field badger sett. During early spring this is a great site to capture wildlife moving through the landscape as the copse is a great stopping place. I have used this site before, and last year I saw species, such as roe deer and foxes.

This year I used my camera in the copse for just one week (11th-18th April), but moved its position within the copse every couple of days. I captured photos of a territorial male pheasant, an adult badger, a grey squirrel, an adult fox, and a rather comical sequence of photos of two female roe deer being spied on by a hiding male. As vegetation in the copse grows up and spring progresses, camera trapping success decreases at this site, but it was nice to see some life early on this spring.

Dorset County Council Wood

For my third site, I set my camera trap within a small, young wood that can be found at the centre of my family’s land, bordered by a road and a meadow. I have used this wood before, with some positive sightings in 2019 of foxes and badgers passing through.

This year I tried the wood again for a couple of days (19th-24th April), with some overall disappointing results. A male pheasant and magpie were seen, with an adult fox being seen twice, but overall the wood was quiet, reflecting a lack of diversity evident in this unmanaged woodland. I did not return to the wood again during this spring as a result.

Badger Field Sett

For my fourth camera trapping site, I returned to an active badger sett towards the centre of my family’s land. The sett is bordered by grazing land on both sides, and is set within a wide, thick hedge, extending out into the field on its east side. Last year I used my camera trap to look within the sett and to the sett entrances on either side, and saw adult badgers, badger cubs, and an adult fox. This was unsurprising as the sett is a thriving mixed site for badgers, foxes and rabbits alike.

This year I positioned my camera trap first on the western side of the sett (25th-27th April), before positioning it directly within the area above the sett (4th-7th May). Pointing my camera trap at the animal track running along the side of the sett, I captured an adult badger, adult fox, and my first hare! Above the sett, my camera trap was more active, capturing lots of badger activity, woodpigeons, blackbirds, and red-legged partridges, and a surprising sighting of a field vole climbing vegetation. It was a lovely sequence of photos!

Badger Alley

For my fifth site, I chose to return to one of my favourite locations, the familiarly known Badger Alley. Badger Alley is an enclosed footpath that has dug out animal holes along half of its length, split into two old badger setts. In 2019 this was a super site for seeing badgers wondering its length, but last year it was obvious that wildlife numbers had declined, badgers in particular.

This year I spent two stints setting up my camera trap along Badger Alley. Firstly, I spent five days with my camera trap trained on the non-active lower sett, changing the camera’s position after two days (10th-14th May). Amongst photos of a female roe deer and a displaying male pheasant, I got lots of really lovely photos of two fox cubs playing and exploring their world.

I then returned to Badger Alley in June, moving my camera from the non-active lower sett (5th-11th June) to the sett further up (11th-14th June). By now my camera trap found that the family of foxes had moved on, with only the female and new male roe deer appearing at the lower sett. What was really sad, was finding that Badger Alley has now been fully abandoned by badgers, with the higher sett now being home to just rabbits. A slightly disappointing end to my camera trap’s time at Badger Alley!

Monkwood

To finish camera trapping during the spring season, I took a bet on a site where there was a possibility of finding another litter of fox cubs. This site was a hedge in the middle of cow grazing land, where I had not previously camera trapped before. I chose to set my camera trap up on a fence post pointing along the hedgeline where I had found holes into the hedge, and left my camera for a couple of days (14th-16th June).

On retrieving my camera trap, I was excited to find that my instincts had been right and my camera trap had shot photos of two fox cubs and an adult. It was a lovely end to my spring camera trapping season!

My 30 Days Wild 2021: A Wild Month

June has been one of those months that has passed by in the blink of an eye. Rainy days quickly moved into scorching heat and then back to rain, framing the last of spring’s events. Every day I have tried to be outside as much as possible, with my happy place being out in nature. From work to down time, my life and hobbies revolve around the wild and the natural world around me. This is why I love to share my experiences with others, to excite, inspire, and instill, and to help motivate people to protect and conserve what is left of our natural world.

It is not surprising then that I am always up for a wild challenge. Last year this took the form of the Wildlife Trusts’ 30 Days Wild, an annual nature challenge that has now run for 6 years, with more than a million people taking part last year. This challenge aims to bring people closer to nature whilst making a positive difference for wildlife and its conservation. All you have to do is complete one ‘Random Act of Wildness’ each day for the whole of June. It is that simple!

Last year I really enjoyed participating in 30 Days Wild, with the challenge enriching my days, helping me to relax, and allowing me to develop a deeper connection with the natural world around me. It also gave me an added focus on days that were busy and stressful, keeping me centred and moving forward. My Random Acts of Wildness ranged from making bird food and picking fruit, to dissecting barn owl pellets and learning my chalkland wildflower species. So it was an easy decision this year to take part once again.

Here’s what I got up to during 30 Days Wild 2021:

Day 1: Tuesday 1st (Work)

For the start of my 30 Days Wild, I began strong.

After failing to find an active kestrel nest last year, I finally found the natural nest I had been hoping for! I also checked and moved my camera trap after a week out at a badger sett, discovering my second family of foxes of this year, with it being by far my best camera trapping season yet!

Day 2: Wednesday 2nd (Day Off)

I love an adventure, and so today I ventured out into my local area in the rain to take in as many different habitats and species as possible, with the highlight being 4 red kites sitting in a tree on my family’s land. After drying off and allowing the rain to pass, that afternoon I headed back outside, this time to test my brand new macro lens and get stuck in to the world of the small.

Day 3: Thursday 3rd (Day Off)

For my second day off, I made the most of free time and went for a long ride with a friend, the highlight being riding through chalk grasslands, embellished with colourful flowers and melodious birds. Being on horseback in this way allows me to take in a range of wildlife in a short period of time and also give me great up-close views.

Day 4: Friday 4th (Work)

For spring, my wildlife blog has been back up and running, and every Friday has been a Wild Friday. For this week, my new post was all about the spring bluebells, which are one of my favourite parts of spring each year. Check it out on my blog now!

Day 5: Saturday 5th (Work)

After a long day at work, I still had energy to work on some of my nature projects. This included putting my dad together a list of all the bird species seen on my family’s land in the last year (65!), and learning how to fill in nest records for the BTO’s Nest Record Scheme, beginning with a blackbird’s, kestrel’s, and barn owl’s nest.

Day 6: Sunday 6th (Work)

A week ago I cleared a small wildlife area of docks and sowed some homemade wildlife mixes, so this evening after work I headed over to the area to do some management and to water the seeds. I then headed home to finish off my day with Thursday’s and Friday’s missed episodes of Springwatch.

Day 7: Monday 7th (Work)

After catching my neice’s cold, today I felt particularly under the weather. It was a perfect way then to spend my evening curled up in an armchair reading some lovely nature blogs to cheer myself up before an early night.

Day 8: Tuesday 8th (Work)

My happy place is out in nature, and so I have been enjoying working at the moment on my family’s farm in Dorset, and keeping an open mind to what I might discover during day-to-day life. Today I had everything from peacock butterflies and Lackey moth caterpillars, to yellowhammers singing and brown hares grazing within 10 metres of me!

Day 9: Wednesday 9th (Day Off)

I began my first of two days by heading to my bird ringing trainer’s private nature reserve to help with summer maintenance work, before returning home to check the kestrel nest and to head round to my next door neighbour’s to look for active swallow nests (4 so far!).

Day 10: Thursday 10th (Day Off)

For my second day off, I had a lovely relaxing hack with Marsha exploring a new route near my home, and spent time watching and counting the birds visiting the feeders in my garden. From pheasants and house sparrows to goldfinches and greenfinches, all species and their abundance are recorded in my garden and sent off at the end of the week to the BTO’s Garden BirdWatch scheme.

Day 11: Friday 11th (Work)

Today after work I spent time expanding my wildlife knowledge through reading the BTO’s Lifecycle magazine and BBC Wildlife magazine, and watching the very last episode of 2021’s Springwatch.

Day 12: Saturday 12th (Work)

Today I used my lunch break to take photos of the bees buzzing around the poached egg flowers in my family’s garden using my brand new macro lens (very exciting!). My evening was then spent relaxing with my family in my brother and sister-in-law’s garden for a lovely family bbq in the setting sun.

Day 13: Sunday 13th (Work)

Last year I completed a self-set challenge to find an example of wildlife for every letter of the alphabet during just 1 day. Today I decided to have a go once again, but with the added challenge of finding different examples compared to last year. It was tough, but I did it!

Day 14: Monday 14th (Work)

After a long day at work, I spent some time exploring Twitter’s wildlife community, visiting some of my favourite and some new pages. Why not check them out yourself to find out what they have been getting up to?

Day 15: Tuesday 15th (Work)

After work, I had a really lovely evening checking my family’s barn owl nest box and kestrel tree nest with fully licensed members of my ringing group. We were excited to find the adult female barn owl brooding 4 young and the adult female kestrel feeding 3 two week old chicks!

Day 16: Wednesday 16th (Day Off)

To finish off a jam packed day off, I went for a lovely evening walk that began with just me and my camera and ended with me also carrying my camera trap and family’s farm cat. He likes to have a walk, but he gets tired too easily!

Day 17: Thursday 17th (Day Off)

Around my usual horse riding today, I kept myself busy with my wildlife photography, using my camera, taking photos off of memory cards, organising photos, and sorting my camera trap.

Day 18: Friday 18th (Work)

Today was another ‘Wild Friday‘ on my blog meaning a brand new blog post went up all about how spring 2021 unfurled. A little scientific, a little anecdotal, and a little visual-based, it was an enjoyable piece to write.

Day 19: Saturday 19th (Work)

Today I have been very busy looking after my parents’ farm whilst they are away. It has been a great opportunity to take in all that the farm has to offer and to appreciate all the work my parents have done and are doing for wildlife on the farm, from digging ponds to planting trees.

For more information check out my 2020 blog post called ‘Giving Nature a Home on the Farm’.

Day 20: Sunday 20th (Work)

After a busy few days looking after the farm, this afternoon I took some time to relax with my family, and be a proud aunt seeing how my very intelligent neice is learning more and more about wildlife. To top off my day, I took part in the Wildlife Trusts Big Wild Quiz, getting a respectable 28 out of 35.

Day 21: Monday 21st (Work)

Nature has a strong influence on british culture, influencing everything from music to art and literature. Nature is also a great inspiration for my own creativity, for example encouraging me to improve my own ability to draw and sketch, and to use my drawings to illustrate my wild ‘How to’ guides.

Day 22: Tuesday 22nd (Work)

After a busy day at work, I decided that for today’s Random Act of Wildness I would make a valuable donation to Dorset Wildlife Trust. Any donation that can be made is important for such organisations to be able to do their conservation work, such as rewilding and habitat management.

Day 23: Wednesday 23rd (Day Off)

Around a lovely much needed catch up with and old friend, I spent my day off countryside walking, checking swallow nests, and baking. I followed suit of last year’s baking, and kept it simple with yummy sponge cakes with wild decorations, in the form of flowers, butterflies and leaves. A lot of fun!

Day 24: Thursday 24th (Day Off)

Today I spent my day checking barn owl nest boxes with Dorset County Council and Alan who I ring with at Conservation Action. Such experiences always feel like a privilege to me and it was a great training experience, topped off with ringing 3 out of 4 of my swallow nests.

Day 25: Friday 25th (Work)

Today was Wild Friday on my blog, with this week’s post being all about my how spring looked for me personally, featuring 16 of my favourite photos from the season. They are either aesthetically pleasing, a great memory, or just bring me joy. Check it out now!

Day 26: Saturday 26th (Work)

Today on a much needed afternoon off, activities included exploring a road verge in my local area to ID plants with my mum (24 wildflower species), and picking elderflower heads to make this year’s elderflower cordial.

Day 27: Sunday 27th (Work)

For the last 2 years I have been enjoying training as a bird ringer, and have become a member of my trainer’s conservation group called Conservation Action. We are based in Dorset and the South West and aim to protect, restore and preserve biodiversity, promote conservation, and to research and monitor the state of nature.

For more information, check out our website at www.conservationactionuk.org or our Twitter and Instagram pages.

Day 28: Monday 28th (Work)

Though my happy place is being outside in all weathers, today was one of those days when I got a bit too wet and then a bit too sweaty. The day was still very productive, so I felt content at the end of the day to head home and curl up with my current wild book: Gavin Thurston’s ‘Journeys into the Wild: Secret Life of a Cameraman’.

Day 29: Tuesday 29th (Work)

Today I accidentally found a bird’s nest at waist height in a hedge on my family’s farm, spent a lovely half hour out in my garden, the flowers thick with bumblebees, and ringed my final of first brood swallow nest.

Day 30: Wednesday 30th (Day Off)

Today I had a glorious last day of 30 Days Wild. I had a lovely early morning walk with my mum, took photos of the many butterflies on the farm at the moment, and finished the day checking barn owl boxes with my bird ringing training as the sun set

A lovely, active and wild month spent in some of the best ways possible!

Spring in Photos 2021

Last year spring was my lifeline, as we experienced the world around us being thrown into disarray. This year spring was instead turned on its head, with changing weather patterns making it unpredictable and different from what we would usually expect at this time of year. A hot and stormy March, cold April, and wet May made nature emerge later, with spring events taking longer to arrive, and being anywhere up to 60 days late.

Still this year’s spring has been magnificent. Vibrant and colourful, it had much to be celebrated. My family’s farm in Dorset became full of new life, from blossoming trees and flowers, to fox cubs and leverets. Spring is unsurprisingly my favourite time of year, so this year I again made a point of getting out as much as possible to experience it, with my camera by my side. Here’s a look at some of my favourite photos from this spring, either for their aesthetic appeal, meaning to me, or overall joy factor.

Spring in Photos 2021

1. Blackthorn – This photo was taken at the beginning of April on a misty morning. It was a beautiful way to see delicate white blackthorn flowers in a different light, framed in front of a splintered stem.

2. Male blackbird – Blackbirds are an iconic sound of spring for me and also so many others. Their beautiful song often symbolises the beginnings of longer, lighter evenings, or for me fresh spring mornings. This male would sit in this willow tree every morning throughout spring to sing his song, defending his territory and mate. In particular, this male and his female nested in our shed, successfully fledging 5 chicks at the start of June.

3. Oak trees of a farming landscape – What hits me first in this photo is how bare this landscape seems for late April. The oak trees have barely begun their bud burst, looking skeletal behind a farm field that is being worked. This almost autumnal scene is refreshing though, showing the new beginnings of another year in nature.

4. Camera trap fox cub – This photo is one of my favourites from this spring, symbolising a successful spring camera trapping season (blog post to come). This was one location, an abandoned badger sett, where I thought that foxes may have been breeding. My camera trap proved my feeling to be right, and treated me to an assortment of photos, day and night, of 2 very active fox cubs. Just one of multiple litters that I found on my family’s farm this year!

5. Wood anemones – Wood anemones have slowly become one of my favourite spring flowers, being one of the first to appear in woodlands across the UK. They are a great indicator of ancient woodland, and an interesting flower to photograph for their shape and colour. My memory cards are full of all sorts of different types of photos of this species!

6. Tawny owl chicks – One of my highlights of spring this year has been ringing chicks under license with my bird ringing group (Conservation Action). In particular, I had a great day in early May at the Woodland Trust’s Duncliffe Woods site in North Dorset checking tawny owl nest boxes. It has been a poor year for tawny owls in general, which was reflected by Duncliffe Woods, but we did get lucky and found 3 active nest boxes. I had the pleasure of ringing these chicks, under permit, which will provide important information to help conserve tawny owls in the future.

7. Brown hare – This year has been the year of the hare on my family’s farm in Dorset. We have a reputation for being a great site for this species, but this year has been truly astounding. With 1-3 hares to every field, I was humbled to spend my spring out working alongside them everyday, getting to see them up close and experience their behaviour firsthand. Truly magical!

8. Pussy willow flowers – Willow flowers have been a difficult subject for me to photograph this year, with poor results. I was pleased though to find this refreshing photo on my memory card, of willow flowers stood out against a clear blue evening sky. They are beautiful in their own right.

9. Spider in macro – This photo that is not photographically ‘perfect’ is still a favourite of mine from this spring for other reasons. As I invest in my camera equipment, my latest edition has been my first professional macro lens. So this photo was the first photo I even took with my new lens, and it fills me with joy to see the new world I can now start to explore.

10. Grey wagtail – Last year my Dad began digging a pond in his field that he is currently wilding. Though he was rained off in the autumn before completion, the half-dug pond is already attracting a wealth of species from birds to insects. Majestic grey wagtails that have begun populating this area over the winter have also found the pond this spring.

11. Sunset – Though sunrises are magical, sunsets have always been my most favourite time of the day. This is because many of my happiest memories can be linked to beautiful and vibrant sunsets from field research in Canada to evenings at home on my family’s farm. I have seen so many incredible sunsets already so far, but I hope to see many more in the future.

12. Wild garlic – Though my busy spring dissuaded me from mornings waking up before the sunrise, I did spend a couple of glorious mornings waking up and getting out an hour or so after instead. The light is glorious at this time of day and always provides me with inspiration for my photos and life in general. This photo represents this magical time of day and the joys of spring flowers, wild garlic being an iconic example.

13. Feather in the bluebells – Wait, a feather again? Well feathers always sneak into my many files of photos, being a symbol of mine and representing my love of feathered species. They can also tell us useful information about what is living in a habitat, for example this feather is most likely from a collared dove.

14. Aberdeen angus calf – This photo is one of my favourite photos of one of my mum’s beef suckler calves. Spring is a time of new life in nature and on the farm, with my mum’s small free range beef herd giving birth at this time. This year they have weathered it through some turbulent months, but now are enjoying a bit of sunshine on their backs.

15. Honey bee – As I was intending to buy a macro lens this year, I made sure to time my purchase to be able to use it on the flowering of the poached egg plants in my family’s garden. It arrived well in advance, and, despite some rained off days, I got to spend some happy lunchtimes in the sunshine photographing bees on these flowers. This is one of my favourite macro photos of the flowers this year.

16. Dog roses – Dog roses were the last event of spring that I looked out for this year, and it kept me waiting! They were 22 days later for me than last year, with the first flowers blooming on the 8th June. They came out in force though, covering hedges within the space of a couple of days, adding some more colour to our hedgerows. With their lateness though, I feel like they also marked the end of spring this year.

Spring 2021: How It Happened

This spring has been an unexpected, unpredictable and turbulent season, that has taken its time to unfurl. Traditionally spring is a season that is characterised as calm and dry, with days getting longer and warmer, and the potential for cooler nights. As lighter evenings returned this year though, spring was far from traditional, with a stormy then hot March, cold and frosty April, and a wash out of a May.

Since 2017, I have recorded the dates of the events of spring every year, and with the start of my blog, every year since I have analysed and compared spring events to see how the season took form. Last year I showed that the timing of spring events is heavily linked to spring weather, resulting in either earlier or later occurrence accordingly. Over the last couple of years this has varied alot, so it will be interesting to see what has gone on this year.

This spring a lot has been going on for me, but I have still found time to be out in nature as much as possible and to enjoy the time when one season slips into another. It has felt that spring has dragged on longer this year, with the potential effects of spring starting warm and progressing to cold, then wet. So as this spring comes to a gradual close and the heat sets in, it is time to find out what actually went on during spring 2021.

Trees

This year there was a general trend for trees being later in their bud burst, leaves unfurling, and flowering compared to 2020. Even before the frosty nights of April, silver birch (Betula pendula) buds burst 14 days later on 26th March, Norway maple (Acer platanoides) first flowered 5 days later on 26th March, and beech (Fagus sylvatica) buds burst 14 days later on 27th March.

As we moved through April and into May, spring events began to stretch even further in their lateness. For example, wild cherry (Prunus avium) buds burst 35 days later on 8th April, horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) first flowered 18 days later on 20th April, alder (Alnus glutinosa) buds burst 15 days later on 21st April, the first lime (Tilia x europaea) leaves unfurled 23 days later on 26th April, pedunculate/english oak (Quercus robur) leaves first unfurled 31 days later on 5th May, and ash (Fraxinus excelsior) flowered 37 days later on 9th May.

Field maple (Acer campestre) did not follow this trend though, with bud burst being 10 days earlier on 26th March, and first leaves unfurling 5 days earlier on 1st April. This may be as these trees missed the worst of the spring weather, but for the other trees spring events ranged from being 1 to 37 days late!

Shrubs

For a lot of the shrub species I monitored a similar trend was shown as with tree species, being later compared to 2020. For example, elder (Sambucus nigra) leaves first unfurled 34 days later on 18th March, blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) first flowered 17 days later on 23rd March, and hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) first flowered 23 days later on 11th May.

Though half of the shrubs I monitored were later in their spring events, ranging anywhere from 2-34 days later, two species did not completely fit this trend. For lilac (Syringa vulgaris) bud burst occurred 12 days earlier on 24th February, but flowered 17 days later on 2nd May. This was the same for dog rose (Rosa canina), where buds burst 12 days earlier on 22nd February, but first flowered 22 days later on 8th June. For both of these species though, it is the spring events occurring before April that are earlier, as the ones occurring in April and May were not immune to the frosts and heavy rainfall like the other shrubs.

Flowers

For many of our commonly associated spring flower species, there was a little more of a split between appearing earlier or later, but on average they flowered later compared to 2020. Snowdrops (Galanthus spp.) first flowered 15 days later on 18th January, wood anemones (Anemone nemorosa) 8 days later on 30th March, bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) and greater stitchwort (Stellaria holostea) both 4 days later on 1st April, cowslips (Primula veris) 12 days later on 2nd April, early purple orchid (Orchis mascula) 12 days later on 18th April, wild garlic (Allium ursinum) 14 days later on 20th April, and oxeye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) 16 days later on 3rd June.

The exceptions were a section of earlier flowering species, including primrose (Primula vulgaris) first flowering 27 days earlier on 31st December, lesser celandine (Ficaria verna) 3 days earlier on 15th January, daffodil (Narcissus spp.) 22 days earlier on 19th January, and cuckooflower (Cardamine pratensis) 10 days earlier on 8th April. These flowers would have been influenced by a warmer winter and start to spring, generally flowering before the cold spell in April.

Birds

On average, bird species spring events have also become later this year compared to 2020. I heard my first song thrush (Turdus philomelos) singing 17 days later on 1st January, I saw my first rook (Corvus frugilegus) nests being built 10 days later on 25th February, and I heard my first chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita) on 16th March. April and May events were again influenced, for example I saw my first swallow (Hirundo rustica) 5 days later on 10th April, saw my first house martin (Delichon urbicum) 9 days later on 21st April, heard my first cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) 3 days later on 1st May, and saw my first swift (Apus apus) 10 days later on 16th May.

There were two exceptions though, where I recorded hearing my first blackbird (Turdus merula) singing 13 days earlier on 10th February, and saw my first blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) 8 days earlier on 14th April. These would most likely relate to other influencing factors, such as overwintering in the UK or habitat requirements.

Insects

Compared to previous years, I have still yet to see some species of butterfly that would typically be on the wing by now, such as gatekeeper butterflies (Pyronia tithonus). For the insects I have seen though, again there was a split in event occurrence compared to 2020. For example, I saw my first small tortoiseshell butterfly (Aglais urticae) 2 days later on 7th April, red admiral butterfly (Vanessa atalanta) 26 days later on 7th April, brimstone butterfly (Gonepteryx rhamni) 26 days later on 18th April, and speckled wood butterfly (Pararge aegeria) 52 days later on 13th June.

The early emergers came in the form of my first buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) 14 days earlier on 27th February, peacock butterfly (Aglais io) 5 days earlier on 30th March, orange-tip butterfly (Anthocharis cardamines) 13 days earlier on 31st March, and red-tailed bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius) 12 days earlier on 19th April. Despite these species appearing earlier in spring, later flowering plants will have had a knock-on effect for them due to a mismatch in timing for food. Only further down the line will we be able to see the extent of this impact.

Summary

This year I have recorded more spring dates than I have done so before, such as alder trees flowering, first yellowhammer singing, and first green-veined white butterfly, which will be useful information during the years to come. This reflects how I have felt more in touch with nature this year even with the unusual weather patterns, such as alot of rain! It became clear as we went through May though, that there was a trend for events happening later and later. This is why I was so interested to see how far this trend actually extended amongst species.

Last year I wrote that spring events are ‘in fact getting later, which will be related to… weather and environmental factors here and further afield’. This year this has turned out to be the case, which shows how climate change is having more of an impact through changes in weather patterns rather than just warmer temperatures. Earlier spring events have been getting earlier with warmer winters, but heavy rainfall and colder starts to spring have been affecting late March to May events most. I wonder now what impact this might have as we move forward, for example greater mismatches in ecological timings.

Celebrating the Spring Season

Spring is by far my most favourite time of the year. It is a time of warmer weather, lighter evenings, buds bursting, animal travellers returning, new life, and new beginnings. It is a time to refresh and revive, gain new strength to move forward, and celebrate what spring means for us and our wild world.

For me the first snowdrops whisper of spring coming, and blooming yellow flowers sing of new starts, but for me spring truly begins with the return of the chiffchaff. The song of the chiffchaff epitomises the feeling that spring is here, and that the season now has hold of the landscape. It is much harder though for me to sum up just one or two favourite spring moments, as I love all that spring has to offer. I gain joy in moments ranging from bursting cherry blossom and the first oak leaves to fox cubs and the return of swallows. However, a star of spring for me has to be when our woodlands become carpeted with the brilliant blues and heady scent of native bluebells. Walking amongst these sensational flowers has given me many happy memories growing up and moving into my adult years.

Spring 2021 has been a tumultuous spring to say the least. Despite this, I have tried to make the most of the season and all it has to offer, rain or shine. Many of you too will have done the same, even though many people I know do not share their spring moments with others. With this in mind, when celebrating spring this year on my blog, I wanted to focus on more than what spring means to me and to include some of my friends and family in my celebration. So, I asked them the questions: What signs make you think that spring has arrived? And what is your favourite thing about the spring season (out in nature)? Here’s what they had to offer:

Nick Tuke, my Dad and farmer, Dorset

The signs that make me think that spring has arrived come in the form of spring flowers, such as daffodils, primroses and bluebells, or seeing the first swallows. My favourite part of spring has to be being out first thing in the morning, when the sense of bright, fresh, greenness, and new life, fills you with a sense of optimism for the year ahead, before the summer heat dulls everything.

Amanda Tuke, my Aunt and London-based naturalist

I always feel that spring has arrived when I see my first hairy-footed flower bee in the garden. The females have gorgeous black furry bodies and they have a very distinctive and energetic way of flying.

There’s a point in spring when a number of my favourite grasses are all finally in flower and looking particularly pretty, in particular Sweet Vernal Grass, Meadow Foxtail, Wood Melick and Wood Millet.

Kasia Starosta, my friend and member of Conservation Action, Dorset

Springtime starts for me with the first glimpse of the curlews flying inland to breed. It’s all about magic “curleee” in the air and familiar shape cutting across the sky. Looking at them I remember some of the names people were giving them. Old French ‘corliu’ the messenger, latin ‘Numenius arquata’ – new moon, bow shaped bill bird… There comes the reflection how far we have travelled from nature, not knowing what species are living around us now, not mentioning naming them after changing seasons and planets.

Judyth Tuke, my Granny, Dorset

For me the first sign that spring has arrived is seeing the first swallow over the garden. This year though, they did not arrive until the end of April.

The things I enjoy most in spring are watching the first flowers opening in the wild or in my garden.

Emily White, my friend, software engineer and writer, Winchester

I know Spring has arrived when it is announced by the smell of grass in the air, flooding my mind with memories of Spring Term lunchtimes spent sat outside on my school’s field. The coming of Spring is further confirmed by birds having conversations ever later into the evenings.

My favourite thing about Springtime out in nature is not actually something the landscape does itself but the way the Springtime sun presents it, showcasing the vivid colours of the fields. This is much unlike the Summer sun which makes everything far too yellow. However, if I had to pick something that happened within nature it would certainly be the sudden appearance of hoards of ducklings.

Marilyn Tuke, my Mum and my nature guru, Dorset

I feel like spring has arrived when I see the first yellows of primroses, celandines, daffodils, and cowslips when walking through the countryside. My favourite part of the season though, is when on early morning walks in spring, I hear the birds singing, such as chiffchaffs, chaffinches, great tits, blue tits, and many more, and I am able to pick out and know each of these individual species. A special spring favourite too is seeing barn owls hunting close to home at this time of year.

Ellie McNeall, my friend and geography teacher, Hampshire

I think that spring has arrived with the signs of life which start to come, such as the daffodils and the buds on the trees, which symbolise new beginnings. My favourite parts of spring are the daffodils and bluebells which come out at this time of year, and start to show that new life is coming after the cold winter. Also, I enjoy seeing lots of baby animals everywhere, especially little baby lambs jumping and little ducklings.

Andy Dell, my uncle, Northamptonshire

Spring is usually close when you see the first sign of the brimstone butterfly. They manage to find the first spot of warm sunshine, but in the changing climate other butterflies are now earlier visitors to the garden especially the purple emperor in this area. Also, the horse chestnut is probably the earliest tree, the big sticky buds the first to show. As the seasons change and merge in to each other it is becoming more difficult to define the start of spring. My favourite part of spring though, is when the sap starts to rise and you start to see the first bright vibrant greens in the trees and hedgerows, the more insistent bird song as the birds seem to reawaken to the prospect of better times, and the little owls are on the wing.

Emma Rogan, my friend, IT auditor and nature enthusiast, Manchester

Spring is in the air when the first bees start to appear in the garden, and when my favourite walk by the river becomes completely carpeted with wild garlic!

There are so many things I love about the spring season! I love being able to sit outside in the fresh air and read my book with a cup of tea, and this year I’ve found so much happiness in getting to know the wild residents of our garden. Mr and Mrs Blackbird visit daily for their plate of mealworms, and our friendly neighborhood fox is a regular nighttime visitor. I also have a special place in my heart for bees (Manchester girl!), so seeing big fluffy bees out on their travels is always lovely. I like going on walks along our local river with my mum and seeing how many different birds we can spot, particularly when we spot proud mum ducks with their ducklings.

Thank you to my friends and family that took part and have helped me out with this spring celebration!

Spring 2020: How It Happened

Walking through the trees, in dappled early morning sunlight, through swathes of brilliant blue. Standing rooted to the spot, hearing the first Chiffchaff, Swallow, Cuckoo. Sitting in breezy sunshine, learning to identify Hawkbits, Vetches and Viper’s-Bugloss. These are just some of the highlights of my spring this year, wild and full of life. With each new day, there was a new wild highlight to be had.

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Following on from my post last week about my favourite photos from this spring (check out Spring 2020: In Photos), I wanted to continue celebrating the lifeline that has been spring and the natural world for me during lockdown. This week I am looking at how spring unfolded this year in my local area and how it looked now the summer is hitting our shores.

Since 2015 I have been writing down a lot of my observations about spring each year. This means I can now look at spring 2020 in light of how the last few years have actually looked and see if anything interesting comes up. Last year I did this in more detail, so for that check out my post called: How Spring Happened 2017-2019.

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So, did a favourite of my mum’s, the Chiffchaff, return by Mother’s Day this year? Did the Oak burst into leaf before the Ash (and so are we in for a splash)? And did the song of the Cuckoo return to my family’s land for another year? As spring now slips into summer, it is time for me to reflect on an extra special spring.

Trees

One of the very first trees to start showing signs of life each spring at my home in Dorset, is the Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum). This year the first buds burst on the 18th of February, which shows a gradual shift forwards over the last few years, being 6 days earlier than last year, and a month earlier than 2018. The first leaf then unfurled on the 10th of March (9 days later than 2019), followed by the first flowers on the 2nd of April (13 days earlier than 2019).

Due to a cold start to spring and a very wet winter, which left the ground cold and waterlogged, Pedunculate (English) Oaks (Quercus robur) were late to make a start, with the first budburst seen on the 2nd of April, 37 days later than 2019. They got going quickly though, with leaves bursting forth by the 8th of April (4 days earlier than 2019) and flowers blooming by the 12th of April (13 days earlier than 2019).

Despite the ground, the trend this year was towards earlier budburst, first leaves and first flowers. Silver Birch (Betula pendula) buds burst on the 15th March, 15 days earlier than 2019; Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) flowered on the 2nd of April, 18 days earlier than 2019; Field Maple (Acer campestre) buds burst on the 5th of April, 13 days earlier than 2019. Grey Willow (Salix cinerea) bucked the trend though, first flowering on the 24th of February, later than last year by 10 days.

This year I added Alder (Alnus glutinosa), Beech (Fagus sylvatica), Lime (Tilia x europaea), Wild Cherry (Prunus avium), and Norway Maple (Acer platanoides) to my spring records, but I did not make observations for Sycamore as in previous years. Lime buds burst on the 14th of March, followed by the first leaf on the 3rd of April; Wild Cherry buds burst on the 15th of March, followed by the first leaf 1 month later and first flower 15 days after that; Norway Maple first flowered on the 21st of March; Alder buds burst on the 6th of April; and Beech buds burst on the 10th of April.

Shrubs

Hazel (Corylus avellana) is one species that flowers early in the year, providing a first hint of colour in a wintry landscape. This year I first saw the male catkins on the 8th of January, followed by the female red flowers on the 1st of February (5 days later than 2019). The first hazel leaf then unfurled 43 days later on the 14th of March.

Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) is another species that flowers before it produces its leaves, cloaking hedgerows in drifts of snowy white and accompanying a ‘blackthorn winter’ in early spring. This year the first flowers burst open on the 6th of March, 5 days later than last year, but 24 days earlier than 2018.

After the early flowering species have brought colour to our countryside, Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) is one of the first shrubs to burst into leaf in the hedgerows. This year its buds first burst on the 2nd of March, 5 days later than 2019, followed by the first leaf unfurling 10 days after (28 days earlier than 2019). Their flowers then followed a month after, on the 18th of April, 10 days earlier than 2019.

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A similar trend was shown with Lilac (Syringa vulgaris), where budburst took place on the 8th of March, 13 days later than 2019. The first leaf then unfurled 3 days later too, on the 25th of March, and the first flowers bloomed on the 15th of April, 7 days earlier than 2019.

The flowers of Elder (Sambucus nigra) are well known and iconic in our countryside, popular for making elderflower cordial. This year Elder flowered early, with the first flowers being seen at home on the 25th of April (22 days earlier than 2019). Just like Elder, the Dog Rose (Rosa canina) is another late bloomer, which opened its petals for the first time on the 17th of May this year (11 days earlier than last year).

Flowers 

The very first flowers to be seen blooming in the countryside is the dainty snow white Snowdrop (Galanthus spp.). Over the last few years the drooping heads of snowdrops have been flowering earlier each year. This year though, it appeared only 1 day earlier than 2019, welcoming in the year on the 3rd of January.

Snowdrops were soon followed by other iconic spring species, in the form of the first Lesser Celandine (Ficaria verna) on the 18th of January (44 days earlier than 2019), the first Primrose (Primula vulgaris) on the 27th of January (8 days earlier than 2019), and the first Daffodils (Narcissus spp.); on the 2nd of February (the same day as last year!).

As spring went on, the Snowdrops and sunshine yellows were joined by Wood Anemones (Anemone nemorosa) on the 22nd of March, Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) on the 28th of March, Wild Garlic (Allium ursinum) on the 6th of April, Cuckooflowers (Cardamine pratensis) on the 18th of April, and Oxeye Daisies (Leucanthemum vulgare) on the 18th of May, all occurring 6-17 days earlier than last year.

This year I also included three new flowering species to my spring records: Cowslips (Primula veris), Greater Stitchwort (Stellaria holostea), and Early Purple Orchids (Orchis mascula). I saw the first Cowslip flower on the 20th of March, the first Greater Stitchwort on the 28th of March, and the first Early Purple Orchid on the 6th of April.

Grasses

This year I was so busy in May and the first half of June that I completely overlooked the flowering of 3 common perennial grass species in my local area: Cock’s-foot (Dactylis glomerata), Timothy (Phleum pratense), and Yorkshire Fog (Holcus lanatus). I did though catch Meadow Foxtail (Alopecurus pratensis) flowering, which first occurred on the 22nd of April (23 days earlier than 2019).

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Birds

With the start of every new year, I begin to keep my eye out for the start of the Rooks (Corvus frugilegus) nesting in the bare and skeletal forms of large oak trees near my home. This year they kept me waiting awhile though, with the first signs of nest building appearing on the 15th of February, 17 days later than 2019.

Unlike the start of the Rooks nesting though, the start of male Song Thrushes (Turdus philomelos) singing crept even earlier than last spring. This was 13 days earlier in fact, with me hearing my first on the 15th of December in 2019! This was not reflected by Blackbirds (Turdus merula) though, as I heard my first male singing on the 23rd of February, 17 days later than 2019.

One of my favourite first signs that spring has begun has to be the return of the Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita). This year they returned to my home in Dorset on the 1st of March, 17 days earlier than 2019.

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The glorious return of the Chiffchaffs were then eagerly followed by the first Swallow (Hirundo rustica) on the 5th of April (1 day later than 2019), the first House Martin (Delichon urbicum) on the 12th of April (12 days earlier than 2019), the first Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) on the 22nd of April (11 days later than 2018), and the first Swift (Apus apus) on the 6th of May (19 days earlier than 2018). A Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) did make its exciting return to my family’s land too, which I heard for the first time on the 28th of April (24 days earlier than last year).

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Insects 

This year the majority of the insects I observed, emerged later than they did last year in 2019. I saw my first Brimstone Butterfly (Gonepteryx rhamni) on the 24th of March, my first Peacock Butterfly (Aglais io) on the 4th of April, my first Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly (Aglais urticae) on the 5th of April, my first Orange-Tip Butterfly (Anthocharis cardamines) on the 13th of April, my first Red-Tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius) on the 1st of May, and my first queen Wasp (Vespula vulgaris) on the 7th of May, with all ranging anywhere between 4 and 37 days later in date than last year.

The ones that did not follow this pattern though, were the Speckled Wood Butterfly (Pararge aegeria) first seen on the same day as last year on the 22nd of April, and the Red Admiral Butterfly (Vanessa atalanta) that was first seen 29 days earlier on the 22nd of April. This year I also added Buff-Tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) to my observations, seeing the first at home on the 13th of March.

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This Year

This year it has definitely been an interesting and joyful experience to watch how spring unfolded. It started with early signs during the winter, before arriving with a blaze of glory in March.

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This last winter was a warm, wet and windy one, which left the ground cold and waterlogged for quite a while into spring. A number of species such as Oak trees struggled with this, but for many it did not stop them from emerging on time or earlier, such as snowdrops and field maples. This variation continued with bird species, some arriving and beginning breeding earlier and some later. For a lot of the insect species though, they emerged late, which will have had a lot to do with the less than ideal weather conditions this spring, for example frosts in April. Thus, how spring is changing year-to-year definitely has a lot to do with changing weather conditions.

So as spring fades to summer heat, I can now say that the Chiffchaff made its return to the British Isles by Mother’s Day, the Oak burst into leaf before the Ash (and so we are in for a splash!), and a Cuckoo made its return to my home. It has definitely been a great spring this year!

Spring 2020: In Photos

As the world was thrown into disarray with the full force of a pandemic, our daily lives were hit by lockdown, slowing and grounding to a halt. For the natural world outside our windows though, spring was just beginning, with days warming, buds bursting, and migrants making their return. Even when our own lives were being disrupted, the natural world was carrying on.

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For me, spring has been a real lifeline this year. With the natural world bursting with life, I was able to draw real strength from the return of the swallows, the flowering of the bluebells and the trees becoming cloaked in delicate new leaves. Every moment I could spend out in nature gave me the strength to continue as if nothing had changed, cherishing every moment for what it was. For this I am grateful, and I really appreciate that I am lucky to have the beautiful Dorset countryside right on my doorstep.

As spring begins to make its exit, I wanted to take some moments to reflect on a time that has taught me a lot, brought me some real magic through the natural world, and will be remembered for as many good memories as those eclipsed by Covid-19. To begin with, here are a selection of my favourite photos from this spring. They range from spring wonderment to heart-warming moments, that all mean something to me.

Spring 2020 in photos

1) Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly – The photo featured above was taken only last week, and reminds me of how valuable the time I spend expanding my knowledge of nature really is, including the identification of butterflies and flowers. I found this Small Tortoiseshell butterfly on a 10m long chalk mound that my parents have created for wildlife within our farmland, and it really is coming into its own this year!

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2) Bluebell & Spider – When the bluebells are flowering, it has to be one of my most favourite times of the year. As the woodland floor transforms to a carpet of blue purple, I feel at my happiest and enjoy noticing new details each year, such as the spider hunting on these drooping bells.

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3) Goldfinch – I love the simplicity of this photo of a Goldfinch taken back in March. The bright colours of the bird vividly stand out from the swelling buds and bare twigs of the hazel in this hedgerow. It was enough to brighten a moment on a decidedly chilly spring day.

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4) Stitchwort – Every flower is unique and different in its own way. With Greater Stitchwort, every flower stands out like a small white star, carpeting verges, hedgerows and woodlands alike.

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5) Dandelion Seeds – Now as an adult I still hold on to the child-like curiosity that a dandelion invokes. With hundreds of parachuting seeds waiting to fly, this dandelion creates a beautiful fluffy silhouette in the spring sunshine.

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6) Lleyn Lamb – This photo is as it seems, a photo of a sleepy newborn lamb, born earlier this year. I am proud to say that I come from a farming background in the heart of Dorset. It has been this that has provided me with a spectacular backdrop to learn about the natural world around me, given me the knowledge and experiences to be able to make informed decisions about how I live my life, and given me an understanding of the important relationship between the environment and modern agriculture.

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7) Wild Garlic & Insect – I love to notice the details in nature and get down to the level of the ‘small things’. This may be noticing the curl of an unfurling fern, the patterns on the petals of a tiny flower, or the jewel-like colours of an insect exploring a cluster of star-shaped wild garlic flowers.

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8) Sunrise – One of the best times of day has usually come and gone by the time most people have woken up in the morning. A sunrise is a golden time though to get out, listen to the birds singing and watch as the world wakes up around you. There is nothing like it!

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9) Dark Rabbit – One of my more unusual sightings this year has to be this rabbit, that has notably darker fur compared to the usual European rabbit. It was small in size, and though showing wild instincts, it was slightly less fearful of us humans. Everyday it could be found sunning itself in a small open area within vegetation situated behind our farm buildings.

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10) Moschatel – Every year I try and learn one new species of flowering plant that can be found in our woodlands and surrounding countryside. This year it was the turn of Moschatel. An often overlooked flower due to its greenish colour, Moschatel is also known as Townhall Clock, due to its flowers having 5 faces that make it look like a cube or townhall clock in shape.

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11) Chiffchaff – One of my highlights of spring every year is the return of the Chiffchaff. When I hear this bird sing for the first time each year, I feel like spring has truly arrived, so I am particularly saddened when their singing finally falls silent as autumn grips the landscape.

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12) Feather – This photo is a good example of the beauty of detail. It is simple, but a spot of light highlights the real elegance of this contour feather, now left to lay amongst the vegetation.

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13) Aberdeen Angus Calf – This inquisitive and interestingly marked calf is another photo that connects with my farming roots. Spring is synonymous with new life, from on the farm to the wider countryside, and this little one was just one of many, precious and to be celebrated.

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14) Spider & Hart’s-Tongue Fern – Some days I walk along in my own world and the wildlife around me merges into one. Other days the world becomes bigger though and I see every detail pop out at me, such as with this spider making its home on a Hart’s-Tongue fern.

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15) Fox Cub – As people who follow my blog or social media will already know, this spring I have had fun yet again using my camera trap on my family’s land. This has to be one of my favourite photos from this year! It was a totally unexpected surprise when this fox cub turned up on my camera trap.

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16) Vole Bones – With the return of breeding barn owls to my family’s farm, I had some fun one afternoon dissecting the pellets left by these owls. It is definitely a very rewarding feeling when you are then able to identify the species the bones you find come from. Here I believe this mandible to be from a bank vole.

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17) Field Rose – I have always loved taking photos of flowers and capturing their small details. Here a field rose, you can clearly see the reproductive organs from the stamens to the stigma.

How spring happened 2017-2019

Over the last few years, I have taken part in recording how spring has unfurled at my home in Dorset, for a citizen science scheme. As at the end of each spring I upload my results to an online site, in 2017 I decided that I should be writing my observations down for myself in my wildlife journal, making it easy to look back on them in the future.

Now I have recorded dates for many different wildlife spring events, from trees coming into leaf to the return of migrants, for 2017, 2018, and 2019. So here, I want to take a moment to look back at these and reflect on what they may show about spring and its current emergence, and if there is anything interesting we can take from this.

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Trees

In my local area, you can find a large variety of native and non-native tree species. Over the last 3 years, I have consistently made observations for 5 tree species: ash, sycamore, horse chestnut, pedunculate oak and silver birch.

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For the 5 tree species, some similar patterns can be observed from my recorded spring dates for the last 3 years. In 2018, a colder winter was experienced, with heavy snowfalls taking place in January, February and March. Evidently this had an effect on the timing of budburst, first leaf and first flowering for tree species, in comparison to the year before.

Budburst was 36 days later for ash trees (27/04/18), 10 days later for sycamore trees (08/04/18), 19 days later for horse chestnut trees (20/03/18), 21 days later for oak trees (18/04/18), and 26 days later for silver birch trees (12/04/18). The same amount of lateness was also seen with the first leaf and first flowering for these tree species in 2018.

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Due to the weather of spring 2018, this meant that when looking at how this year’s spring unfurled (2019) in comparison to last year, predictably budburst, first leaf and first flowering took place 4-53 days earlier than 2018. When comparing 2019 with 2017 though, I am able to get an idea of the average trend for the three years. For example, ash and silver birch events are getting later, as are horse chestnut flowering and sycamore first leaf. Sycamore, horse chestnut and oak generally show a trend though of spring events getting earlier, from a couple of days to a month.

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Shrubs

For shrubs, the selection I have been observing during spring each year are: blackthorn, dog rose, elder, hawthorn and lilac. From 2017-2019, a similar trend was predominantly observed in these species as with tree species.

In comparison to 2017, blackthorn first flowering was 14 days later in 2018 (30/03/18), elder budburst was 9 days later (13/03/18), elder first leaf was 23 days later (30/03/18) , hawthorn budburst was 33 days later (02/04/18), hawthorn first leaf was 6 days later (08/04/18), and lilac first flowering was 27 days later (07/05/18).

Then when looking at 2019, spring dates were earlier in comparison to 2018, with blackthorn budburst, first leaf and first flowering being 20, 9 and 29 days earlier, dog rose budburst, first leaf and first flowering being 22 and 29 days earlier, elder budburst, first leaf and first flowering being 9, 24 and 8 days earlier, hawthorn budburst and first flowering being 36 and 13 days earlier, and lilac first flowering being 14 days earlier.

Also, similarly to tree species, blackthorn and elder both showed that from 2017 to 2019 spring events have become earlier on average. Hawthorn and lilac showed the opposite trend though, with hawthorn first leaf and first flowering becoming later over the 3 years on average, if only by 7-13 days.

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Flowers 

In comparing spring between 2017, 2018 and 2019, it is evident that for many plant species the same trends have been shown from year to year. This is not true for all though, as between bluebells, cuckooflowers, lesser celandines, oxeye daisies, snowdrops and wood anemones, flowering times varied from being later in 2018 and earlier in 2019, to being earlier overall, or being similar overall.

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  • Bluebells flowered 17 days later in 2018 (13/04/18) than 2017, and then 10 days earlier in 2019 compared to 2018. From 2017 to 2019, this was 7 days later overall.

  • Cuckooflowers flowered 16 days later in 2018 (20/04/18) than 2017, and then 12 days earlier in 2019 compared to 2018. From 2017 to 2019, this was 4 days later overall.
  • Lesser celandines flowered 5 days earlier from 2017 to 2018 (24/02/18), followed by another 13 days earlier in 2019.

  • Snowdrops flowered 10 days earlier from 2017 to 2018 (10/01/18), followed by another 7 days earlier in 2019.
  • Wood anemones flowered around a similar date at the beginning of March each year.

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  • Oxeye daisies flowered around a similar date at the end of May each year.

Grasses

Grass species also showed a differing trend to tree and shrub species for 2017-2019, with a united pattern of flowering later each year. When observing spring events with grasses, I observe from year to year 4 species: cocksfoot, meadow foxtail, timothy, and yorkshire fog.

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Only timothy had observations made for 2017, and so in comparing with 2018, it was found to have flowered 18 days later (18/05/18). This is in line with comparisons between 2018 and 2019, where it was found that cocksfoot flowered 4 days later (30/05/19), meadow foxtail flowered 14 days later (15/05/19), timothy flowered 23 days later (10/06/19), and yorkshire fog flowered 14 days later (12/06/19).

Birds

Though I have started increasing my recordings of different bird species during spring, I only have records for 2+ years for rooks, blackcaps, chiffchaffs, house martins, song thrushes, cuckoos, and swallows.

  • Following the first snowfall of the year, rooks were first seen to be nest building 16 days earlier in 2018 (04/02/18) than 2017, but with no snow, this was 11 days later in 2019.
  • Blackcaps returned to my local area 12 days later in 2018 (11/04/18) than 2017.
  • Chiffchaffs returned 13 days later in 2018 (26/03/18) than 2017, following the last of the snow and cold weather. Consequently, in 2019 they returned 8 days earlier than 2019 (15/02/19), closer to the 2017 date.
  • House martins returned 12 days later in 2018 (25/05/18) than 2017, whilst being 31 days earlier in 2019 than 2018.
  • Male song thrushes were first heard singing in 2018 on 28/01/18, 8 days earlier than 2017. In 2019, this occurred a lot earlier though, 30 days earlier, falling on 29/12/18.
  • Male cuckoo heard calling at a similar time at the end of May in 2018 and 2019.
  • Swallows returned to my local area at a similar time at the end of March/beginning of April in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

Insects

22_06_19_Garden_Yellow_Flower_Bee

In line with tree and shrub species, the first sightings recorded each spring of insects followed a general pattern of emerging later in 2018 than 2017, and earlier in 2019 than 2018. This was true for:

  • Brimstone butterflies – 13 days later on 14th April 2018 and 47 days earlier on 26th February 2019
  • Peacock butterflies – 14 days later on 20th April 2018 and 26 days earlier on 25th March 2019
  • Small tortoiseshell butterflies – 31 days later on 26th April 2018 and 25 days earlier on 1st April 2019
  • Speckled wood butterflies – 20 days later on 26th April 2018 and 4 days earlier on 22nd April 2019
  • Orange tip butterflies – 28 days later on 4th May 2018 and 33 days earlier on 1st April 2019
  • Red admiral butterflies – 27 days earlier on 22nd April 2019 
  • 7-spot ladybirds – 19 days later on 25th April 2018
  • Queen wasps – 47 days earlier on 31st March 2019
  • Red-tailed bumblebees – 13 days earlier on 21st April 2019

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Summary

With my love of spring, each year I have enjoyed recording the dates of when things happen during spring, such as the first swallow, first leaf or first elder flower. It has been satisfying now to be able to take a moment to put a few of my records together and take a look at how spring has unfurled over the last few years and what this could mean.

For some species, events are getting earlier, probably due to warmer temperatures earlier on in the year and during the winter before. For others, they are in fact getting later, which will be related to other weather and environmental factors here and further afield. Either way, the ‘norm’ is changing and it will be interesting to see how this could progress over the next few years to come.

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Spring woodland walking: My Local Woods

19_04_19_Horseshoe_Wood_Bluebells_26As the weather gets warmer and drier during spring and the countryside begins to bloom, I always like to set myself the goal of getting out into it as much as possible. I like to use these countryside walks as a way to calm my own mind and escape the stresses of modern day-to-day life. In particular, I am always drawn back to the woodlands and forests, with the tranquillity they breath to me. Growing up in Dorset I have always been able to disappear into the trees and appreciate such a habitat at any time of year.

19_04_19_LogIn celebration of my love of the woods, especially during springtime, over April and May this year, I made 4 visits to one of my local ones to observe it as the season changed. On these trips I sat and wrote down my experience on my favourite log (see photo above), and took lots of photos with my new DSLR camera whilst walking through the woods. Check out below to see my diary entries and the photos that accompany them:

1: Signs of spring

  • Date: Friday 12th April
  • Time of day: Mid-morning
  • Highlight: Seeing the first bluebells emerging in the woods

Today I made my first trip of the year to my local woods, walking across the countryside to get there. The sun is shining down upon me in its glorious spring style, but it has to be said that there is still a chill on the breeze.

12_04_19_Horseshoe_Wood_Bluebells_21

The woods are noticeably just beginning to take on their spring splendour with the woodland floor coming to life. Bluebells are starting to flower, wood anemones are dotted here and there, and celandines, primroses and stitchwort are spreading through the undergrowth. The hazel trees are coming into leaf, as are the oak trees, with small soft bunches of leaves hanging above my head. Everything is now lush and green, with winter now being fully forgotten.

12_04_19_Horseshoe_Wood_Hazel_5Spring bird calls and song provides the soundtrack to my trip, including everything from groups of foraging long-tailed tits to angry blue tits and charismatic chiff chaffs. I also hear the reminiscent winter squabbling of jays, and on a stop to my favourite log in the middle of the wood, I can hear the coarser call of a raven and the calls of male pheasants.

When turning my eyes to the ground around me, it becomes apparent that the undergrowth is full of bees and flies buzzing between the flowers, the most notable being furry bee flies. Looking at the undergrowth around me, it does make me think how if you just stop for one moment and take in your surroundings, you will always find that everything is alive around you.

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When sat in this wood, I feel away from all the hub bub and stress of everyday life. It gives me the opportunity to see this world through the glass of a lens, whilst still getting excited about everything new I see. Thus, I believe everyone should have the opportunity to have their own escape into nature, such as amongst the trees, flowers and wildlife, to be able to recharge and refresh.

2: Sunrise start

  • Date: Friday 19th April
  • Time of day: Early morning
  • Highlight: Sunrise

19_04_19_Farm_Sunrise_9This morning I chose to get up at 5am to meet a 6.08am sunrise, and to make the most of the dawn light. At this time of day, on my walk to the woods, I had great sightings of roe deer and brown hare, and got to see a beautiful pink sunrise. The dewy grass added to my photos in this glorious light.

The wood definitely did not disappoint, blanketed in the warm golden tones of dawn. The sunlight falling through the trees was spectacular, especially at this time of year when a mix of well known flower species carpet the woodland floor. I was also greeted by the dawn chorus in full swing, with great tits, robins, blackbirds and lots more adding their voices to the mix.

19_04_19_Horseshoe_Wood_Hazel_819_04_19_Horseshoe_Wood_Stitchwort_4Snow white garlic flowers are now emerging in the wood, whilst early purple orchids are also beginning to sprout here and there. The bluebells are now starting to create a sea of blue, with their white counterparts dotted here and there amongst them. Soon the woods will be fully awash with purply-blue and patches of white.

19_04_19_Horseshoe_Wood_Bluebells_White_2You can definitely forget yourself among these trees, flowers and wildlife, which this morning included the bark of grey squirrels up in the tree canopy. Today, I have stayed awhile sat in the morning light of the woods, but I now know to make my way home from  here, as the sun begins to burn through the trees a little too hot, and the midges begin to bite my neck more noticeably. This signals ‘the best part of the day has thus moved on’, as i must.

3: Walking with a four-legged friend

  • Date: Friday 10th May
  • Time of day: Morning
  • Highlight: The company of my dog Cassie

10_05_19_Horseshoe_Woods_Cassie_2On my trip this time to the woods, I took my four-legged friend Cassie. At the ripe old age of 13, she is becoming weary on her legs, but is still up for an adventure. This is great as there is nothing better than sharing the wonder of the outdoors with another being, even if they are no more than 3 feet tall.

By this time, the woods are now dressed in light green leaves of varying shapes and sizes. The woodland floor is also becoming rich with vegetation. My favourites, the bluebells, are now beginning to go over, with their best time being a week ago. Though the thought of the end of this year’s bluebells makes me sad, I also find that there is something beautiful in seeing their fading colour and shrivelling bell-shaped flowers. Instead they are being replaced by the unfurling of fern fronds and a carpet of green. Now the orchids are out in full force , as are the flowers of wild garlic, yellow archangel, and dainty pink herb robert.

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The birds still sing in full force, with the usual suspects in place, but now they are joined by the caws of rooks and chatter of jackdaws. The woodland floor is now also full with the noise of flying insects buzzing between the flowers in all their shapes and sizes. For my canine friend and myself, the woods are still giving us endless pleasure as the season rolls on.

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4: The death of spring

  • Date: Saturday 25th May
  • Time of day: Afternoon
  • Highlight: The changing of the season

25_05_19_Outside25_05_19_Horseshoe_Wood_Roe_DeerThe days are getting hotter and the sun higher in the May sky. In the depths of the wood though, the canopy keeps me cool. The woodland floor is now a tangle of unruly vegetation. The dying bluebells, orchids, and spring flowers jostle with unfurling ferns, sticky goose grass and flowers that persist. These include stitchwort, herb Robert, and red campion, which are gems of colour in a sea of green.

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Looking up, hazel leaves make a blanket of lace above my head as the work of busy invertebrates is now noticeable by this point. On the ground, brown speckled wood butterflies flit, flies still buzz, and bejewelled light green beetles fall on me as they dive bomb from the trees.

25_05_19_Horseshoe_Wood_Speckled_Wood_Butterfly_7Ash trees are finally fully in leaf and roe deer ramble lazily between the trees around me. Though this transition period may be more subtle than others, it truly signifies the changing of the seasons, as the important time for some species is replaced by the next. Thus, summer has now crept up on us!

How the woodland made its transition

 

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25th May

 

Spring at RSPB Radipole Lake and RSPB Lodmoor

When asking people what they like to do most during spring, answers range from watching Springwatch and doing wildlife gardening to listening to the dawn chorus and taking in wildflowers in our local green spaces. Though I do like doing all these things too, one of my favourite things to do during the spring season is to visit two of my favourite nature reserves in search of some of my top bird species.

Radipole lake nesting mallards

By getting out to local reserves, we are supporting the work of organisations such as the RSPB, immersing ourselves in the wildlife that call these reserves their home, and improving our own health and wellbeing at the same time. Take a look at my recent adventure and see if you may be inspired to visit one of your local nature reserves as spring rolls into summer!

Saturday 11th May 2019

I was first introduced to Dorset’s RSPB Radipole Lake and Lodmoor 5 years ago by my Granddad whilst on a birdwatching trip, and since I have visited many times and have even completed an internship at the reserves with the RSPB. This means I am well acquainted with Radipole and Lodmoor (2 of the 5 RSPB nature reserves found in Dorset) and they hold a special place in my heart.

For those of you who will not have heard of these nature reserves before, I will just start with a few facts about the two:

Radipole Lake

  • 21.3 miles from my homeRadipole lake urban swan
  • 83-hectares in area
  • Designated SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest)
  • Managed by the RSPB since 1976
  • Habitats: wetland, hedgerow, scrub, reedbeds, saline lagoons
  • Star species: kingfisher, marsh harrier, bearded tit, Cetti’s warbler

Lodmoor

  • 21.5 miles from my homeLodmoor reedbed
  • 76-hectares in area
  • Designated SSSI
  • 1.5 miles east of Radipole
  • Connected to the sea under a sea wall at the southern end
  • Habitats: freshwater reedbed, scrub, saline marsh
  • Star species: marsh harrier, bearded tit, Cetti’s warbler, common tern

What makes these two reserves extra special for me though, can be split into two parts. Firstly, they are both situated in less conventional locations than many other nature reserves, being found at the centre of the busy seaside town of Weymouth. Thus, when you step into these reserves and surround yourself with the reeds and wildlife, you would not believe that you are situated within the heart of an urban area. In this way, they are both oases for a range of wildlife and for the naturalists that visit them.

Secondly, they are both year-round homes for one of my favourite species of bird of prey, the majestic marsh harrier. I did not know that they could be found on my doorstep until my first visit to the reserves, so their discovery for me a few years back brought with it lots of excitement. Consequently, it is one of the greatest draws for me when visiting these reserves at any time of the year.

Discovery centre marsh harrier mural

So, on a sunny day in May this spring, I headed to the reserves alongside my birdwatching partner in crime, my mum, to hunt down marsh harriers during their breeding season, whilst taking in other species and a range of habitats.

Adventure with my mum

 

RSPB Radipole Lake Nature Reserve

Discovery centre radipole lake map

Most trips to the reserves start in the public car park outside the RSPB’s Weymouth Discovery Centre and next to the bridge into Radipole Lake Reserve. This setting feels a lot more like an urban area than a home to wildlife.

Radipole lake pigeons

Once you cross the wooden bridge from the car park into the reserve though, you are suddenly transported into a world of water, reeds, sky and trees. You are also hit by a cacophony of bird sounds ranging from species commonly heard in our gardens to water birds and warbler species, such as the sound of the noisy and distinct Cetti’s warbler. If it was not for the houses that can be seen above the reeds in the distance though, you could probably forget the reserve’s urban setting all together!

Radipole lake reeds

When my mum and I crossed the bridge we also found ourselves on a hard surface trail that gives easy access around the reserve. Starting at the discovery centre, we then followed it round the main circular discovery walk, stopping to spot birds in the trees along the sides of the trail, to identify plant species, and to look out across the reeds and open water from the main viewing platforms and spots around the reserve. In this way, we were able to pretty quickly rack up our species list and to get some great views of wildlife.

Radipole lake long-tailed tit
Radipole lake female mallard

Radipole lake dunnock

My highlight of the trip to Radipole though, unsurprisingly included my star species, the marsh harrier. This began earlier on in our walk around the reserve, when my mum and I first caught a tantalising view of a male marsh harrier flying above the reeds, hunting in the distance. This made us then even more motivated to try and get a closer view of marsh harriers on this day, by heading off the main discovery trail and on to the north trail, to visit one of the best spots to watch these birds. Sat at a viewing screen in the sunshine, hot drinks and biscuits in hand, our luck paid off and we had the pleasure of enjoying one of our best ever hours watching marsh harriers at the reserve.

Following a short wait, the hour started with my mum spotting our earlier male marsh harrier hunting above the reeds, though still a good distance away from where we sat. We watched him through binoculars for a little while, before he disappeared from our view.

This sighting from the viewing screen was not our last though. After a longer wait, our viewing experience was suddenly taken up a notch. The same male that we had been watching previously suddenly popped up within 15 metres of the viewing screen, giving us amazing views of him. He then gave us a real show hunting and flying backwards and forwards in front of us before flying higher and higher till he was directly above our heads. This allowed us to really experience this bird in action and gave me the opportunity to at least try and photograph him in his natural habitat. We only made our own departure from the reserve once the male had finally moved off once again.

Radipole lake marsh harrier

Radipole lake marsh harrier 2