Spring is launched
With cowslips in bloom along the Burley bypass and hawthorn hedgerows in leaf, I feel Spring is launched. During the warm weather earlier this month we were able to sit in the garden enjoying the sunshine, admiring new buds on the clematis and listening to the strengthening choir of birdsong. We were tantalized by glimpses of a dark brown butterfly whisking over the hedge – a peacock. It’s always a surprise that a creature so sumptuously coloured – brown, purple, red, yellow – can appear so drab on the wing, but, of course, we are seeing the underwings and missing the lit iridescence. As we discussed this, a large bright yellow butterfly – rather like a flying daffodil – raced across the garden and was gone. What a treat! A male brimstone, newly emerged from hibernation and in urgent search of a mate.
I proudly sent the record to our WNS Recorder and – this is the beauty of record keeping – she kindly sent back a list of the dates I’d reported brimstone since 2002. What was interesting was that, though not every year was represented – after all you have to be lucky enough to be observing when such an infrequent and speedy transit occurs – all the sightings were around the end of March or beginning of April. These first brimstones emerge in Spring and have to find a mate and get the next lot of eggs laid (on alder buckthorn) before the weather clicks back to wintery. No time to dawdle.
Easier Spring insects to spot are bumble bees which can appear as early as February. They are ideal for an ageing and rather short-sighted naturalist like me. Only the large queens survive the winter and have to spend time feeding to build up energy before seeking a suitable cranny or hole to found a new colony. There are also a limited number of species, easily distinguishable by their characteristic pattern of colours. The tail – white, buff or red – is particularly important.
Puzzles do remain. Last week a friend brought me one. She’d captured a bee-like creature found resting on her whirligig clothes drier. The captive was in a jam jar darting and buzzing crossly. Stout and covered in yellowish fur, it looked like a small bumble bee. However, its swept-back wings had dark markings and it had a very long proboscis. In fact it was a large bee-fly (Bombylius major) and used the proboscis to suck nectar from flowers, its favourites being primroses. It’s not altogether charming. It flicks its eggs into the burrows of solitary wasps or bees, and the larvae eat both the host’s food and its young!