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Put your cursor on any photo for a caption, or click here for more April woodland flower photos. For the latest observations see @SWC_Nature.

16 April 2018 "Next week will see more leafing" I wrote a week ago, but was rather surprised when walking in Kent in last Saturday's glorious weather that there was very little sign at all of the great green tide of new foliage that should be spreading rapidly up through the tree canopy by this stage of April. Indeed I would say we are about two weeks behind schedule on this.

As of last weekend some quite basic steps had not yet happened. One is the jump from a few tentative leaves on bramble to full leaf coverage. There is an awful lot of bramble in the countryside so this has a dramatic, if usually little-noticed, effect. But last weekend bramble leaf shoots were still small. I am getting wary of making predictions but the warmer weather this week should make them respond.

Hawthorn bushes are leafing widely - another common shrub - but somehow I seemed not to see much on Saturday. Ditto blackthorn blossom, though it is definitely getting into gear in my locality. Again, blackthorn is so widespread and its blossom crowds so thickly onto its twigs that it usually makes a big visual impact.

Trees are also getting ready to leaf. If you look closely there is almost no tree that is not showing signs of budburst - the green of the new leaves showing through the bud. What may happen in this sudden warm spell is that everything comes in a big rush. I await developments with interest.

One common tree that often does not leaf till the end of April is ash. It starting to flower now, but it does not flower in any way that you might recognise. Instead its blooms look like frizzy lettuce You have to look quite closely to see this, and if you look closer you will see that there are male flowers (photo) and female ones (photo). After fertilisation the male ones fall off and the females go on to form the bunches of ash seeds.

Is it ash pollen that is making your eyes itch and your nose run? Or is it birch - also just starting to leaf and catkin - or hornbeam, also catkining? Certainly if you get hayfever at this time of year, it is probably tree pollen you are allergic to. Birch pollen in particular is said to be allergenic to a lot of people.

Birdsong is now pretty much where it should be. The big migrant arrival in the past week or so was the blackcap, whose song (try this clip) is everywhere at present. The key to it is that it starts as a sort of meandering mumble and then gets more purposeful, as if the bird suddenly remembers how to sing. Given that we are going to be having southerly winds this week it would not be impossible to see a swallow or house martin turning up either. Or a cuckoo, but they are now very rare in the south east.

More prosaic, but not less beautiful, is the wonderful chorus of blackbird song that you can hear near habitation in the late afternoon at present - several birds singing at once, some close, some far away. It is one of the most beautiful spring sounds and it does not last long: individual blackbirds sing till July but they get less competitive sometime in May and the wonderful layered effect becomes rarer: so enjoy it.

As for bluebells, well I saw a very few on Saturday but a lot more stalks of flowers to come. I would expect at least a bit of a blue haze this weekend, with the best displays perhaps starting the week after. Wood anemones are already at best and I have seen some wood sorrel (photo). Notice how lesser celandines on verges are starting to get smothered by other vegetation.



9 April 2018 It hardly seems possible that it is just a week since the last entry, when spring still seemed a bit of a tentative prospect. Now we definitely ARE in high spring and indeed last Friday (6th) was something of a perfect moment, when I finally had that gorgeous spring day one fantasises about all winter.

In particular there were great carpets of lesser celandines, primroses and wood anemones, and I not only heard nineteen chiffchaffs over the course of the day but also the song of blackcaps, another migrant arrival. Suddenly there was the sensation of everything coming in a rush, too much of it to keep up with.

For lesser celandines, primroses and daffodils this IS the perfect moment. Daffs are already fading in places and lesser celandines appear at this time of year precisely because it is their chance to get some sunlight before other vegetation grows up and smothers them. They get overtopped by other plants even before they have finished flowering. Such is the relentless march of spring.

In the woods bluebell plants are everywhere and I even saw the first few flower shoots on Saturday, just to the south of Reigate. My guess is that one might see a few flowers in the next week - a slight blue haze, maybe - with them being full out the week after (ie the 21st). But things can vary locally quite a bit. For some reason the woods on the lip of the North Downs seem to come out earlier.

Woodland flowers are not the only game in town in April, however. One of my delights last Friday was to see my first ground ivy of the year. It is an insignificant plant in many ways (photo) but like most April flowers it achieves a big effect by growing in big carpets. Soon it will be everywhere - field edges, path verges, even on downland. It is an important food source for all those queen bumble bees you see flying around.

I also saw my first wild strawberry flowers this week, plus cuckoo flower (aka lady's smock - photo) which will soon be making lovely pink drifts in roadside ditches. There are some forget-me-nots about (mainly in and around gardens at this time of year) and hairy bittercress and speedwell and ....well, see these photos for all the species you can expect to see.

The next week will also see more leafing - on hazel, elder, sycamore, snowberry, bramble, dog rose - starting to create a green fuzz in the understorey of woods. Even more importantly we should see the eruption of blackthorn blossom (photo). This coats great swatches of the hedgerows in lovely white blossom. Like everything in spring, it does not last long...

I was also noting the sudden appearance of many new insects on Friday. I am increasingly fascinated by this world of tiny critters that we (most of us anyway) know little about. For example there were lots of tiny black flies on some wood anemone flowers. What are these creatures? What is their life cycle? They have their existence right under our noses and we barely notice them.

The most noticeable insects, butterflies, are up and about. I have seen plenty of yellow brimstones and a few commas, plus one probable peacock (it flew by too fast for an entirely definite identification). I am anxiously looking out for small tortoiseshells, which have had a few bad years and could do with a good one.

The most exciting butterfly to see in April - and they are usually quite common - is the orange tip, however (photo). Because of the orange wing tip on the males from which it gets its name, it is gratifyingly easy to identify in flight. (It is another story for the females, which are white and almost indistinguishable from small white butterflies, which also appear at this time.) Their favourite food plants are cuckoo flower and garlic mustard (not yet in flower but it should be soon - another very common April verge flower) and they also lay their eggs on them.

One bird to listen out for, apart from blackcaps and chiffchaffs, is the nuthatch. I mentioned this in my 25 March entry, but to repeat: it has a lot of different sounds - a penetrating "wee.....wee....wee", a more rapid version of the same, a trill and a "de-dit" sound. Unlike other birds, it only sings when attracting a mate and setting up a territory, not when raising young. That makes it the quintessential April bird, the avian equivalent of the orange tip and the bluebell.



2 April 2018 It takes an incredible leap of faith to write this at the end of such a grey and cold Easter weekend, but it WILL now be spring. It HAS TO be.

April is the month of the great transformation, the month when all the cautious little "signs of spring" that we have been straining to notice in the past twelve weeks are flung aside and everything bursts forth. It is the beginning of exuberant, full-on spring, of plants frantically growing upwards, of flowers bursting out everywhere, of a cacophony of birdsong.

Perhaps the biggest change of all, however, is the great greening up of trees and shrubs. A tide of new foliage sweeps through hedgerows and woods, starting (in general) with smaller understorey shrubs and then spreading to the big trees.

You can see this starting already. Some hawthorn budburst - new leaves starting to appear - has been evident since early March, but over the Easter weekend I saw more general signs of it. Hawthorn is a common shrub, so when it leafs, it adds a big green fuzz to the countryside.

Other shrubs poised to leaf include bramble, dog rose, snowberry, dogwood, while elder has already made a head start. Evergreen shrubs like privet and pyracantha (firethorn) are also quietly adding new foliage, while cherry plum leafs once its blossom falls. Keep an eye on blackthorn too, which explodes into a mass of white flowers in early April. It could be any time now but may be a bit late this year because of the cold March.

Back with the trees, hazel and field maple are two medium sized understorey plants that are usually early into leaf, and one can see examples of this already starting. Hornbeams are extending their male catkins and big red catkins that look like caterpillars where they fall to the ground are appearing on black and lombardy poplars. Weeping willow, which has been tantalisingly tentative all March, will now finally produce catkins and leaves, turning them a bright green. Crack willows are also starting to do the same. Note too horse chestnut - whose buds burst to produce extraordinary alien-like leaves that then hang limp, like washing drying in the sun.

On the flower front, more has happened in March than one might think. Daffodils and primroses have had a fairly normal month and are now at their peak and there are quite a lot of daisies in mown grass - enough to cover nine with one foot in places, a traditional sign of spring. Wood anemones are about half to 70% out and I saw the first few cuckoo flowers this week. Wood anemones apart, verges are a great place to see flowers in April - ordinary little lane and path verges in places like Kent and Surrey. There are lots of little delights to be seen there as the April verge and field flowers page describes.

Assuming the weather warms as forecast this week, I expect a rapid return to normal for birdsong. So a lot more song thrushes, greenfinches and chaffinches, all of which have been ludicrously tentative in March. I was hearing chaffinches last weekend but only their raspy metronomic "rain call" (sound clip): now they should sing and become ubiquitous - unless they have all died off in the cold snaps. Blackbird song in the late afternoon is building up but is not yet at the intensity it should be.

Oh, and I almost forgot. I heard my first chiffchaff of the year on Easter Saturday near Eridge. This is an easy song to recognise (sound clip) as it is like the bird's name. This is normally the unequivocal signs of spring, that exciting moment when you know winter is finally past, since they are our first migrant arrival from the south. But on Saturday the excitement was rather muted by the fact that it was such a cold grey day. One chiffchaff does not make a spring - there is always the lingering doubt when one hears one's first that it is a bird which has overwintered (a few do) or an isolated one that came too early. But usually once one has arrived, they are soon everywhere - almost boringly common. Listen out.

I can't go without mentioning butterflies. The only day when the weather was butterfly-friendly last week was Monday (26 March). Near Guildford that day I saw seven yellow brimstone butterflies. Nothing since, but warm weather should bring them out - not just the overwinterers such as brimstones, peacocks, small tortoiseshells and commas, but also some small whites and maybe even orange tips (which coincide with cuckoo flower and garlic mustard). It now thought that cold winters are good for butterflies, killing parasites that may feed on them, so I am agog to see how many appear.






















13 comments:

Em said...

Somewhere on this site you have written that it is perhaps sterile to spend time identifying birds, plants etc but I don't think so. I think it helps enjoy the rich diversity of what is there and appreciate the differences and variety in nature.

Peter C said...

I am glad you think so, and definitely agree!

ramblinros said...

Thank you for interesting nature blog
Found a new-to-me spring flower on Saturday
Spring Beauty - Claytonia perfoliata syn Montia perfoliata -
the stem is surrounded by a curious cup-shaped leaf
Was walking on the North Downs Way eastwards immediately after the Watts Gallery - very sandy -
up a slight rise and then the plant was on both sides of the descending path
for about the next 100m, and then no more
https://www.flickr.com/photos/ramblinros/13649168915/

Peter C said...

Nice observation, ramblinros! I have seen this plant once or twice and I do mention it in April Verge and Field Flowers (http://nature-and-weather.walkingclub.org.uk/search/label/April-verge)….

"Also in the wierd category is spring beauty, a plant of sandy soils which has tiny white flowers in the middle of large round leaves."

…….but it is a rather rare thing to see, so I am glad to hear of your sighting.

PeteB said...

On polling day 7 May I went for a long tramp over the South Downs starting in Lewes and eventually finishing in Eastbourne. At the start of my walk (Book 2 walk 25c Lewes to Glynde) I had just left the golf club car park and started on the path past a water trough where a herd of cattle were drinking and grazing when to my surprise I saw what I am sure was a single red? deer hind grazing with the cattle (it was too large to be a roe or fallow deer). The animal was frightened by my presence and seemed to try to hide among the cattle! I had my camera phone but did not want to start unsettling the cattle and I had a long day ahead so pressed on with my walk. The only deer I have seen before on the South Downs were fallow deer in the flat water meadows. I have never heard of red or sika deer on the South Downs and a web search has revealed nothing. Quite a sighting !

Peter C said...

A very interesting sighting, I agree. Of course, historically red deer were present throughout England but I had always understood that now they only live in places such as Richmond Park. The only other place I have once thought I saw one was in the Lake District. Perhaps you should report this sighting to some relevant association or other. I am not quite sure which. (If it was a butterfly or bird or flower it would be easier to think of suggestions!)

PeteB said...

Did walk 3.20 Sevenoaks to Wesaterham today after bailing out of it early on Sunday because of violent storm. Bluebells already showing well at Ide Hill and should be at their best in 2-3 weeks which seems a bit earlier than usual? Fields still pretty waterlogged in the morning but after lunch at the Cock Inn terrain and woodland trails much drier.

PeteB said...

Did walk 3.20 Sevenoaks to Wesaterham today after bailing out of it early on Sunday because of violent storm. Bluebells already showing well at Ide Hill and should be at their best in 2-3 weeks which seems a bit earlier than usual? Fields still pretty waterlogged in the morning but after lunch at the Cock Inn terrain and woodland trails much drier.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to learn that Yellowhammers have been detected on the walks this summer (considering their numbers have declined rapidly). I saw some on the Pewsey/Avebury walk recently. They were in a quiet country lane, flanked by tall *all important* hedgerows. I haven't seen this species for years. E.

Peter C said...

I have read that their numbers are declining, but I have to say I hear them quite a lot in the south east. They like hedgerows on farmland but are also heard up on the downs. A lovely song so I hope they don't decline further.

Sandy said...

Fantastic blog - I was particularly interested in the 19 September one about late-surviving flowers. I started noting down flowers still out in Nov/Dec a few years ago - e.g. 24 spotted on 3-4/12/2014 and 27 on 19-20/12/2015. It was astonishingly mild then of course. I don't seem to have any notes from last year but maybe I wasn't out walking at the right time. Look forward to comparing notes later in the year.

Peter C said...

Thanks for your kind comments. Glad you find it interesting.

December 2015 was indeed the weird mild one when all sorts of early spring flowers and even blossom started to come out. But some flowers in early December are not unusual. Before writing the blog I should perhaps have checked my own December Flowers page which lists several. See http://nature-and-weather.walkingclub.org.uk/2011/12/november-hedgerow-and-flowers.html

Peter C said...

I don’t know why the link in the last post says November in its url. But go to the main blue button menu above the Nature Blog and click December and you will find the page I mean.

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