Friday, 14 March 2014

Heralds of Spring

“You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep Spring from coming.” 

 Pablo Neruda

Can you believe it?  After months and weeks of wellies and waterproofs and clothes that constantly get so muddy you don't even bother washing them anymore, I found myself walking the Black Mountains of Southern Wales in shorts and t-shirt last weekend.
Yes! Spring is finally here!  The Celandines' have roared into life, adorning every grassy roadside bank and woodland verge like little glowing suns and the blossom of the blackthorn and cherry tree's appear to have come out of nowhere, cloaking their tree's with a beautiful pinky white haze that has brought out the bumblebee's.  I am very much enjoying seeing the bumble bee's drifting lazily along from flower to blossom, drinking in the springtime nectar like a determined insect zeppelin defying the laws of aerodynamics in the very fact that they are flying with inadequately sized wings and beats per second - guess no-one told them about these laws. 

And of course with all this weather, it is bringing out a creature that I spend my winter days yearning to see, knowing that when I do, it means the year is finally on the turn; it is of course, the butterfly.  I finally saw my first 2014 butterfly when I was on Stockbridge Down the other day - a triple whammy of three stunning golden male brimstones which, according to the childhood tales of Moomintroll, make for an excellent summer (if the first butterfly you see is yellow/gold you will have a good summer, if it is white it will be a quiet summer.  Brown and black butterflies should never be talked about; they are much too sad).  And since that day I have seen them everywhere, Comma's, Brimstones,Tortoiseshells, Peacocks and Red Admirals - all the species that hibernate in adult form and are therefore the first to be seen when the weather warms up.  Butterfly survey season starts in 3 weeks - can’t wait!

A Peacock and a Tortoiseshell enjoying the nectar of a Willow tree.


 Now another type of creature I love to observe are reptiles (I obviously like things that come out in warm sunny weather) and I have been lucky enough to see the first adder's of the season already.  This was on a site up on the border of Surrey/Sussex where my partner Matt has just begun a 3 month adder research project.  He is studying the population of adders on two sites - one being his own National Trust grazed heathland of Marley Common and the other being an ungrazed heathland belonging to the Amphibian and Reptile Group.  He will be identifying the population density and habitat structure of each site and also radio tracking the adders of Marley to see where they disperse to after mating season.  The first part of this project started last week as the male adders have started coming out of hibernation (they emerge a few weeks before the ladies as they have to bask and build up strength and sperm stores ready for mating) and I spent a day helping Matt catch adders (consisting of stealthy diving into the heather with protective gloves) and measure their weight, length, basking temperature and a whole host of other statistics that will go into the research.

A Male adder - not yet in his silver mating colours. Note the black zig zag - females have a brownish zigzag.

This means I get the chance to properly see and admire these stunning creatures - adders are my favourite UK snake, with their beautiful colouring and striking zigzag pattern, as well as that bright red, demonic eye with its slit pupil, they are poetic and mesmerising to look at.  
If you are walking across any heathland this month it is likely that the adders will be basking so if you are lucky, keep quiet and keep your eyes peeled, you may just spot, on the sunny edge of some gorse or heather, a distinctive zigzag pattern that doesn't belong to any bracken frond...