WATCHING SPRING

This Monday will see BBC’s Springwatch return for the 2017 season. This is one of the few television events I look forward to every year as it provides an opportunity to get an up-close-and-personal look into nest boxes and hedgerows, countryside habitats and coastal hideaways, and discover what the British flora and fauna is getting up to as the weather (hopefully) turns warmer. While the calendar may say spring begins on 21st March, it’s really been in the past month or so that I’ve noticed my own garden beginning to erupt as the days turn longer.

In the pond, the frog spawn was slightly later than last year, appearing on 8th March. Hundreds of tadpoles hatched about 3 weeks later and those that survived the newts are still going about their business with no signs of legs just yet. Their parents—large common frogs—can occasionally be seen hanging out in the pond vegetation or venturing further afield to sit on the garden path.

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Having the privilege to watch damselflies metamorphosize from aquatic nymph to flighty adult has been one of the highlights of spring so far. But the most unusual sight in the pond this year? Bees. At any one time there are at least a dozen bees, either drinking or enjoying the nectar of the water hawthorn. Every so often I have to play lifeguard and fish one out that misjudged its step, but otherwise they seem to be getting on fine. If you’re interested in making your own bee or insect drinking station, a small dish with water and a few sponges or corks will do the trick.

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The thick hedges along the edge of the garden are popular with the birds: robins, blue tits, house sparrows, blackbirds, and woodpigeons have all made an appearance. The robins in particular have been incredibly active, zipping back and forth as they gather food to feed their young and pausing every so often at one of the bird feeders to grab a bite for themselves.

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But there is also drama. I spent the weekend watching a robin go from feeder to the nearest hedge, and each time it ducked inside I heard the noise of hungry chicks demanding to be fed. They sounded more like a nest of rattlesnakes than birds, but I did wonder at the wisdom of locating a nest so close to a busy food source; anything might be watching and listening.

Sure enough, a few days later when I was out in the garden the hedge had fallen silent and there was no sign of any fledgelings. Any number of things might have predated the chicks. Magpies and crows are occasional garden visitors, and these intelligent members of the corvid family will return to a nest again and again to get food for their own young. There is also the sparrowhawk; although I haven’t seen her recently, I suspect she is still around since this area is so rich in potential prey.

With all this going on in just one suburban garden, it’s not difficult to see why the BBC decided to showcase the highs and lows of the season across the entire country. I’ll certainly be tuning in over the next several weeks, and as Britain basks in a few days of glorious sunshine over the Bank Holiday weekend, I hope you have a chance to get out and enjoy the sights and sounds of spring in its full Technicolour, surround-sound glory.

Elaine Massung Off the Beaten Track
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