Adjusting the clocks (Fall back, Spring forward), the first lawn cut, the last sweeping up of leaves: we all have our own ways of marking the changing seasons. As a naturalist, my markers tend to be wild life observations and this is the time of year when they come thick and fast. Already I have several ticks on my Signs of Spring list: frogspawn (rather imprudently sited in a puddle under a cattle grid above Middleton), first butterfly (a small tortoiseshell) feeding in the sunshine on bergenia flowers in our front garden; and, on the same day, first queen bumble bee cruising low over the border looking for a suitable crack or crevice to start her new colony. In fact it was so balmy on March 22nd that we also noticed lots of gnats, floating lazily over the garden, several small jewel-coloured flies investigating the crocuses and, especially pleasing, four or five hungry honeybees enjoying the winter-flowering heather.
It’s now an exciting period on the birding front too as great population shifts take place. I’ve already seen flocks of curlew and lapwing wheeling over the moors and upland pastures, and just beginning to split off into pairs and claim their nesting sites. Soon walkers will be accompanied on their hikes across the tops by a whole orchestra of bird cries – coor-li, pee-wit, the plaintive, whistles of golden plovers and the trilling songs of meadow pipits as they rise high into the air and then parachute down, singing as they go. It’s certainly a wonderful time.
I’m hoping to make my next tick tomorrow. If it’s fine, I shall walk up river from Ilkley Old Bridge listening for a chiffchaff. These tiny birds are the first of our summer warblers to arrive and it’s easy to know when they’ve got here. They distribute themselves in the treetops and sing their – rather monotonous – song: just chiff-chaff, chiff-chaff or, occasionally, chiff-chiff-chaff or chaff-chiff. In appearance they’re very like the next warbler-arrivals, willow warblers, except for (according to the experts) having darker coloured legs. I’ve never been near enough to one to check their legs as they’re usually up in the canopy, but once they open their mouths the identification is beyond doubt. Willow warblers, with their wistful cascade of sweet notes, should be arriving later this month. With my kind of year-markers there’s always something to look forward to!
Wharfedale Naturalists Society
Photo by Dave Howson