By Rebecca Robinson
March 1st marked the start of meteorological spring. From this moment on, we begin to sense the subtlest of shifts in the natural world around us.
Now that spring has officially sprung, the hard ground begins – slowly – to thaw beneath our feet, and cheery yellow daffodils and purple crocuses pop up to greet us.
The days, too, start to gradually lengthen, and the air begins to gently warm with the gradual return of the sun and the light. The farmers’ fields will soon fill with the sight of baby lambs playing and frolicking, as fluffy-white as clouds. Everything begins anew.
One of the first signs of spring is birdsong.
The dawn chorus reaches a crescendo outside my window each morning as the birds sing and trill even more loudly and clearly than usual. It is in springtime, too, that the birds sing with even more gusto to attract a mate or to defend their little patch of earth or sky. Throughout this month and as we move into April, we will spot lots of birds busily nest-building and gathering together twigs, grasses and mosses, making their homes for the season.
So, what might we see flying and flitting in our skyscapes in this most hopeful of seasons?
We typically think of Robins as the wintertime birds of Christmas cards. Still, if we look around us now, we may catch glimpses of their cheerful redbreasts nestled within natural nooks and crannies, with the females building their cup-shaped nests in hedgerows, sheds, and log piles. Though Robins sing all year long with their distinctive whistle and warble, too, we may hear the male singing even more loudly now as part of his courtship ritual.
We may also spot the female Blackbird nesting – a sooty-coloured contrast to the male with his dark feathers, bright yellow beak and musical song at dusk and dawn.
Other birds busily homemaking at this time of year range from Bluetits, with their sky-blue feathers and striking yellow bellies, to song thrushes with their delicate, tawny colouring, and the tiny, mouse-like Jenny Wren.
When we look up to the skies, we may catch sight of migratory birds returning to our shores after overwintering in warmer climes. Returners such as the chattering, woodland-favouring Blackcap with his soft grey feathers and fuzzy black cap, or the river-dwelling Sand Martin with their plush brown feathers and white throat and underparts.
Closer to April, Skylarks with their impressive feats of flight – soaring up vertically and sailing downwards as it sings its clear song – begin to breed, ground-nesting in meadows and on arable farmland.
We may also spot March Moth, often found resting on tree trunks, whose delicate wings blend into the bark and, if we look hard enough, tiny bats hanging upside down from tree branches, stretching out their wings before their dusk flights.
It is always a herald of summer, too, when we see bumblebees waking up and butterflies fluttering through the air, landing on nectar-giving flowers such as Ladies’ Smock, English Lavender, and Buddleia.
Keep your eyes peeled, as well, for small, vibrant-red Tortoiseshell Butterfly and Peacock Butterfly – dark red and marked with peacock-coloured ‘eyespots’ – or the Comma with its orange-brown wings and scalloped edges, and the yellow, leaf-like brimstone butterfly.
Let’s turn our heads skyward this spring and enjoy this season of hopefulness and promise, and let us remember – when we spot our first Swallow, with its streamer-like feathers and twisting-turning flight – that summer, in all its glory, surely cannot be far behind.