In search of Spring wildlife in Cheshire
PUBLISHED: 00:00 09 March 2020
Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s Adam Linnet talks the wonder of our county in spring and species for you to spot
To my mind, spring is by far the best time of the year to be outside. The cold winter weather has subsided and there is a clear road ahead to the hazy days of summer. But, for me, the reason spring is so exciting, is the new life bursting into leaf, flower and song in the Cheshire countryside. The warming of the air and the ground starts to bring changes to our county's wildlife. Snowdrops will have almost been and gone, but lesser celandine, wood anemone and daffodils will be flowering for a month or two yet. Lesser celandine are one of the easiest flowers to learn to identify. The bright yellow flowers scattered across the woodland floor on sunny days are unmistakable. They tuck their petals back in when the weather turns wet and cold, with the flowers being fully unfurled in full sun, tracking it through the woodland canopy. If you think of Wordsworth, you probably think of him wandering lonely as a cloud and a host of golden daffodils. However, it was the lesser celandine that was his favourite flower, being inspired to write about it in three of his poems.
Alongside the lesser celandines you will probably see the white flowers of wood anemone, or the dainty, drooping white flowers of wood sorrel. Wood sorrel leaves look similar to the leaves of clover, but they have a zesty, zingy citrus flavour, making them a nice addition to salads. These woodland flowers are making the most of the early sunshine. Soon, the trees will burst into leaf and they will be cast into shade once more.
Talking of trees, some will also be making the most of the lack of leaves. Wind-pollinated trees such as birch and hazel will now be producing their catkins, drifting the starting blocks of future woodlands throughout the air. To give them the best chance of finding a female catkin on another tree, they do this before the buds burst into leaf, which could block the pollen when it is oh-so-close to hitting its mark.
One of the highlights of spring has to be the return of the bumblebees. The queens have spent the winter tucked away from the cold and are now on the lookout for the perfect place to start a new hive. They will often inhabit holes in the ground, in log piles or in trees. Don't worry if you see one moving in close to you, bumblebees are fairly sedate and will only sting when seriously provoked. They will also help pollinate the flowers in your garden, which is excellent news if you're growing your own fruit and vegetables. Bumblebees, it is no secret, are suffering a decline in numbers due to the loss of flower-rich habitats. In Cheshire, this is highlighted by the fact we have lost 99 per cent of our species-rich grasslands since the 1940s. If you want to help bees this spring, then planning your garden to provide nectar-rich plants through the year is a brilliant action to take.
Alongside the buzz of busy bees, the dawn chorus is a harbinger of spring I absolutely love. The two-tone call of the chiffchaff, the descent down the scale of the willow warbler and the glorious song that skylarks pour from the skies above are seasonal delights we should all go and hear. Whilst our farmed landscape will hold a number and variety of bird species, it is in the woodlands where the dawn chorus hits a crescendo. The mature oaks that cling to the cloughs of the Peak District will hold a wealth of song birds that come together like an orchestra, playing the greatest songs never to be written. Up out of the woods and onto the moors, lapwings will be doing their tumbling displays, giving their distinctive "pee-wit" calls, flashing black and white as they twist and turn. They will be accompanied by the bubbling call of the curlew and, if you're lucky, the drumming of snipe and the mournful "mew" of golden plover. We are working hard in this landscape to ensure these birds continue to breed in Cheshire, creating and restoring the wet habitats they need to thrive.
On the other side of the county, the lowland wetlands around Chester and the Wirral are a great place to see some of our rarer summer migrants. The reedbeds of Marbury and Red Rocks will be alive with reed and sedge warbler song. The two sound very similar, both giving a variety of scratchy notes. However, reed warblers keep to a pace you could set a metronome to, whilst sedge warblers speed up and slow down their song, making the rhythm more random. The way to remember this is "reeds are rhythmic". Visually, the two are quite different, with reed warblers being quite plain and uniform. Sedge warblers on the other hand have a striking stripe just above their eye and are more patterned on the back.
Standing on the edge of the reedbed, listening to the song of birds that have returned from Africa, feeling the warmth of the sun once more, has to be one of the best things to do this spring, if not this year.
Nectar, the sugary fluid produced by flowers, is an essential food for many different flying insects; butterflies, moths, bees, hoverflies and more. Not all flowers produce the same amount of nectar: some modern hybrid varieties produce very little, and flowers with many extra petals can be difficult for an insect to get at. Look for traditional varieties - the type you would find in a cottage garden. It's a good idea to grow a wide range of flowers; aim to have something in bloom from early in spring, all through summer to late autumn. On a sunny summer day it's always worth spotting what blooms are attracting the most insects in other gardens or public parks.
Cheshire Wildlife Trust has a calendar full of spring events for you and your family to enjoy. For more details visit cheshirewildlifetrust.org.uk/events or contact the membership team on 01948 820728.