Blackwater Valley Countryside

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April in the Valley

Little Egret by Colin WilsonMost of the wildfowl that spent the winter here will have returned to their far north breeding areas, such as Iceland and Northern Europe. The birds that stay all year round will now be singing and displaying to claim and protect territories. One bird this is becoming increasingly common in the Valley is the elegant Little Egret.

Territorial displays and disputes can easily be seen as the birds are far more interested in their own activities than avoiding being watched. Woodpeckers, Lapwings and Skylarks are amongst the birds that will draw your attention; look out for Sparrowhawks too.

Watch out for migrating birds, search the skies as House Martins, Swallows and Swifts return. Donít forget to listen as the dawn chorus begins and also listen out for the first Nightingale.

Surprisingly some of our richest wildlife woodlands rely upon regular tree felling to maintain their value. Small patches of the wood when cut in rotation (known as coppicing) allows light to reach the woodland floor so creating ideal conditions for many woodland flowers such as Bluebells, Wood Anemones and Lesser Celandine as well as warmth-loving woodland insects such as White Admiral and fritillary butterflies. The aim in a coppice woodland is not to kill the trees but to encourage a dense regrowth from the cut stumps. Cutting a new patch (cant) each year creates a mosaic of different aged cants providing a number of subtly different habitats suitable for a wide variety of species.

BluebellsDo watch woodlands as they start to colour up, after the bright splash of yellow from Lesser Celandine look out for white spring flowers such
as Wood Anemone, Wood Sorrel and Wood Spurge. Also look out for Violets then the ever popular Bluebells. Rowhill Nature Reserve is worth visiting
this time of year for their display of spring flowers so make a point of visiting them.

Look for the new fresh green tufts of needles on Larch trees and see if you can spot the bright deep pink female cones emerging from them. Following the white blossom of Blackthorn, witness the greening of the hedgerows as they burst into leaf.

There should be no mistaking the vivid yellow of Brimstone butterflies as they fly along the hedgerows, also look out for Orange Tip butterflies as they hatch from over-wintering pupae as well as Holly Blues.

After the frenzy of activity caused by frogs and toads watch out for Newts as they migrate to their breeding pools. Their eggs are more difficult to spot than frog or  toad spawn because the individual eggs are attached to reeds below the water.

Bee on rosemary

 
Bee Lines...
 

The first bumblebees you see - and hear - in the year are large (around 2cm long) young queens that have survived winter and are foraging to find food to establish a new colony and rear the first batch of workers.

 

 Worker bees (unmated females) and males all die at the end of summer and the bumblebee population relies on the young queens being successful in making a nest
in spring, laying eggs and finding enough food to raise the first batch of workers
for a new colony.

 

By April the workers should take over foraging for nectar and pollen and the queen will stay in the nest laying eggs.

 

Later in the year, if the colony has been successful - the queen produces female eggs to raise as new queens and male eggs for the cycle to begin all over again.

 

Did you know?
 

* There are 25 different species of bumblebee native to the UK, each with a distinctive pattern of coloured strips.

* Only females can sting. Males are harmless and lazy collecting food only for themselves.

* Different bumblebee species have different length tongues, long tongues for deep flowers, short tongues for shallow. This is why several different species can live alongside one another provided a range of different flowers are present.