Although spring has only just officially started, the spring weather came early this year with warm conditions in February resulting not only in an early display of snowdrops and primroses but unprecedented first sightings of birds such as the swallow and butterflies such as the clouded yellow and green-veined white.
While a warm winter may seem pleasant to us, these meteorological events can prove difficult for spring wildlife, particularly if the weather then turns again, with breeding cycles disrupted and species more used to an African winter suffering in the cold.
Hopefully as we come into April, some “normal” spring weather will assist our wildlife, whether new arrivals or resident species getting into good condition and settling down to breed.
The hedgehog, a species which will awake from hibernation in warmer weather can sometimes be seen during the day as they emerge and look for food. Otherwise, it will be loud snuffling noises in the night time as well as footprints and droppings that will betray their presence. The droppings are often visibly full of beetle cases; a popular food source.
Unfortunately, hedgehogs are much rarer than they used to be. This is a species that wanders widely at night and obstacles such as garden fences prevent them finding new areas to feed in, while other barriers such as roads, sadly result in mortalities.
Sightings of hedgehogs are now very valuable in terms of targeting conservation work so if you see one this spring please specify the date, location and how many you see. This information should be sent to the Kent Mammal Group – see link at the foot of this article. Further information on how you can help hedgehogs can be found on this Wildlife Trusts website.
A more common species that may appear in our gardens at this time, is the common frog and even the smallest pond can support for frog spawn and tadpoles. During the winter frogs hibernate at the bottom of ponds; these are often different from the breeding ponds, which they may travel some distance to find in the spring. Frogs can gather in large numbers to lay eggs, which are protected by big clumps of floating protective jelly called frog spawn. Kent Wildlife Trust have some handy information on how to create a pond. Toads also travel some distance at this time of year and roads are a big problem, you can find out more via the Kent Toads on Roads programme.
Listen to the sounds of nature..
Bird song is another sure sign of spring and the songs of our blackbirds, thrushes and robins are now being accompanied by summer visitors such as chiffchaffs and blackcaps. This is a time of year to look for a host of other birds which have spent the winter in Africa to settle and nest with us, such as swallows and martins. Many other species pass through Kent on their way even further north like the thousands of wading birds (such as dunlins and godwits) which feed up on our estuaries before going as far north as the arctic tundra to breed. Some butterflies and moths are long distance migrants too, with the painted lady coming from as far away as north Africa.
Our resident garden birds are nest building now. Nest boxes are a real lifeline for species such as the blue tit, particularly when there are not enough natural tree holes in many of our modern, tidy gardens. Gardens with plenty of trees and shrubs will have lots of caterpillars later in the late spring and early summer which provide the main food source for blue tit chicks. With up to ten young per nest, these tiny parents have plenty of work to for the do and this can be fascinating to watch, particularly as the young peep out of the nest hole for the first time. The RSPB have this useful guide on how to make a nest box.
Recording your sightings
As spring 2019 unfolds we urge you to connect with nature, whether in your garden, local park or further afield and enjoy a wealth of wildlife activity. Reporting what you see also allows us to build a picture of the health of our wildlife in Kent.
The Kent and Medway Biological Records Centre (KMBRC) is the County wildlife database which holds over 6 million records of more than 20,000 species. This is nearly 30% of all species recorded in the UK! They use this information to support conservation and education work across the county and to inform planning and development decisions. Records supplied to KMBRC are stored securely and shared with local, national and global organisations to support decision making and provide the data for ground breaking scientific research.
Further information on biological recording and the KMBRC can be found here