Wildlife enthusiast and resident volunteer at Exbury, Juliet, describes the early signs of spring at Exbury:
Step by incremental step spring is advancing. The signs are gradual at first but then gather pace: bird song picks up, increasing in volume and intensity and nesting begins; tree buds open revealing leaves and flowers; early wildflowers bloom in sheltered, sunny spots and early emerging insects, such as honey and bumble bees, can be found investigating the heather beds for nectar. Even a few butterflies are on the wing.
The third week in February was National Nest Box Week when everyone is encouraged to put up nest boxes in their garden. Why are bird boxes needed? Well, many nesting sites in tree holes or old buildings are no longer available to wildlife. This is due to the modern trend for tidiness which increasingly deprives birds of places to nest.
Exbury has done its bit by erecting six new boxes scattered around the gardens. Originally, bird boxes were only in the trees on Jubilee Hill. But this year the gardeners and volunteers (myself included) have placed new boxes outside the Five Arrows Gallery and also a few close to Top Pond. It will be interesting to see what species adopt them as their home!
Resident Exbury bird species are active during early spring and the tits, robins, dunnocks and blackbirds are in good voice. The mournful song of the mistle thrush can be heard around the gardens, and early breeders such as the ravens are already nesting. The migrants, such as swallows, flycatchers and warblers, all of which depend on insects for their food, will come later and attempt to synchronise their breeding season with the main flush of insects and their larvae.
Brimstone butterflies can be seen on sunny days at the moment. The male is yellow with four red spots on the upper wings, the female is greenish or white. They have spent the winter sheltering in ivy and are usually the first butterfly to emerge from hibernation. If the weather turns cold they will disappear back into cover.
Warm weather also brings out red admiral and peacock butterflies, which will all be looking for nectar to fuel their activities, so early flowers are important. Bumble and honey bees are taking advantage of winter-flowering heather, mahonia shrubs and early blossom.
It is good to see the primroses starting to flower, which will also be welcomed by the brimstones and other butterflies at a time when their food is scarce. There are many areas around the gardens where swathes of pale yellow primroses cover the ground and these will soon be in evidence.
Over the next few weeks the pace of the season will surely increase and many more signs of spring will appear.
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