April began with relatively mild weather and good numbers of birds were feeding around my garden and on the feeders. Species included siskins, which I hope will stay around and breed here this year, and a pair of mallard on the Big Pond where a heron also visited daily. On one occasion two herons arrived together. Every evenings two or three bats emerged from under the house roof but I still have no idea what species we have here. At the end of the first week a female blackcap was seen in the sheltered garden at the back of the house and as the earliest of the dandelion flowers went over a single linnet arrived to eat the seeds. Other visiting birds included two treecreepers. These regularly disappeared into a crevice in an old willow tree next door, so I am hoping they will have a successful nest there.
The weather grew warmer at the end of the first week of the month and one of the smaller garden meadows was full of cowslips, their subtle scent filling the air in the evenings. A pair of red-legged partridges roamed the garden during the second week of April, popping in and out of the hedge bottoms in search of a safe nest site. The weather became a little cooler and some welcome rain refreshed the borders. Several bird species obviously had nests around the hedges, in particular two pairs of blackbirds and several dunnocks. These little birds are regular garden residents and as well as nesting in the hedges here they also use the large sedges I grow in the long borders and around the big pond. On the 14th a male redstart appeared in the garden. This tends to happen in the second week of April every year and is always a thrill to see. They are stunning birds and I feel privileged that they stop off in my garden and find food and shelter here for a couple of days before moving on to their nest site. Another bird that was very active this month in the garden was yellowhammer. A pair seemed very settled with the male singing from the top of one of our thick hawthorn hedges. Hopefully they will nest here successfully again this year. At the end of the second week of April a single swallow was seen in our area but none were seen over the garden itself, plus it is sadly some years since we had a nest in the porch.
As we moved into the third week of April the male redstart was still with us although the weather turned cold and windy. Two starlings, quite unusual birds here, visited the bird feeders and also had a bath in one of the small ponds. The next few days were warm and spring like and the first orange tip butterfly appeared around the garden. It was good to see a speckled wood too and as the week progressed many more orange tips were seen making it easily one of the best springs we’ve had for this species for some years. Other butterflies began to appear in the warmer weather including peacock, small tortoiseshell and a gorgeous female brimstone which was laying eggs on the alder buckthorn on the edge of the big meadow. In the large pond both common and great crested newts were plentiful and plants around the pond edges started to grow rapidly. The weather was warm and sunny for the whole of the week and as spring seemed to erupt all over the garden it became obvious that this was a ‘vole year’ for us with large numbers of bank voles scuttling about in the long grass, in the borders and even in and out of gaps in the paving around the house! I am especially fond of bank voles and feed them here – they seem to especially like sunflower hearts. Queen bumble bees were also plentiful this week and on the 20th two swallows swooped around the house and two chiffchaffs and a black cap were singing here.
Sadly this warm, spring-like weather was soon behind us but all the local warblers continued to sing. Other birds, especially robins, were frantically feeding young in nests in the hedgerows and both male and female bullfinches fed on the dandelion seeds in the lawn. Overnight on the 26th and 27th of the month we had a ferocious storm. It was very wet and windy but thankfully there was no damage around the garden as there had been at roughly the same time last year when one of our old hawthorn trees sadly fell apart. As we moved through April the weather improved again, and it was warm and sunny until the very end of the month. Chiffchaff, blackcap, yellowhammer and the local blackbirds sang constantly and the whole garden was alive with butterflies, birds and scuttling bank voles! As the month drew to a close I was very surprised to find a small green-winged orchid close to the big pond, presumably a single plant that had germinated from seed that may have been in the soil here for many years. I am hopeful that raking the pond bank later in the year might turn up more seeds of this wonderful plant.