The First Swallow
The first week of April was wonderfully bright and sunny but very cold here in South Shropshire. Overnight the snow that was covering the Long Mynd, the Shropshire Hill that I can see from my office window, had melted, and everything felt more spring-like with primroses beautifully in flower in the garden, and cowslips well on the way in spite of the cool temperatures. Amongst other birds a single long-tailed tit was seen in the garden – the first of these sweet little characters for many weeks – but there was still no chiffchaff singing. However a variety of finches were using the bird feeders, including the now resident siskins, and a single colourful jay was seen on several occasions. The 5th of the month was very cold and windy but then the weather warmed a little and there were plenty of birds around the garden but no mammals, not even our resident bank voles were seen. A pair of greenfinches were welcome visitors in light of their current decline, but still no marsh tit which I fear we may have lost from the area. Elsewhere in the garden the big pond was getting visits from a mallard pair, although they were also using the large pond in the field next door and hopefully will choose that as their nest site as there is less disturbance there.
A rare garden visitor – House Sparrow!
The second week of the month saw the arrival of chiffchaffs with two singing from our tiny woodland area, and blackcaps too arrived at the same time, and these two species really heralded the arrival of spring! The big pond, without the mallards around, soon attracted a pair of moorhens – our previous breeding pair I would like to think as they seemed very familiar with the garden. We saw a single male house sparrow this week – a very unusual bird for us – and he made brief visits to the sparrow nest boxes under the eaves. Butterflies around the garden were just three species – orange tip in abundance, brimstone which breeds on the alder buckthorn outside my office window, and a single peacock. Orange tip is always seen in my vegetable garden where we have flowering forget-me-not which the orange tip loves to feed on. One disappointment this week was the lack of life in the Big Pond. Tadpoles were growing quickly in the Marshy Pond but only a few great-crested newts were seen in the larger one. Around the garden boundaries and in Dormouse Wood though, greater stitchwort was everywhere amongst the bluebells, and masses of stitchwort and red campion was flowering on our local roadside verges. There was no sign of ‘our’ swallows but half a mile away our neighbours’ pair had returned on the 14th – a couple of weeks earlier than usual. The warm spring weather continued to the end of the week.
The third week of the month saw the moorhen pair starting to build their nest amongst the reeds in the big pond, in the exact same spot they used last year. All the usual bird species were seen around the garden and a single grey squirrel was a frequent visitor– the first for some time. There were good numbers of chaffinches in the garden, the males colouring up beautifully. Several dunnocks were seen in the garden daily and two coal tits used the feeders frequently. On the 19th one of our swallows returned, flying up to the nest site in the front porch! The next day he was sitting on the wires over the back garden in his usual spot! A second appeared the next day in the late afternoon and joined the first on ‘their’ wire over the back garden. There was then a little investigation of the nest site and the male then perched on the apex of the house in his usual spot, singing beautifully.
Moorhens’ nest in the usual spot
On the 22nd of the month there were several eggs in the moorhen nest. Chiffchaff and blackcap were still singing all around the garden and the pair of swallows, sometimes with a third, were seen around the house daily and feeding over the farmland around us. One of our bank voles reappeared which pleased me! I see them and feed them every day and I would hate to think that they had left us! On the 24th there were 10 house martins feeding over the garden and three greenfinches using the feeders. Sadly at the end of the week the moorhens’ nest, which was quite close to the pond bank, was predated, possibly by the local carrion crows. However they immediately moved to the middle of large pond in the field next door which will give them much better protection as there are overhanging willow trees there and less easy access to predators.
Brimstone butterfly egg laying on Alder Buckthorn.
The month ended with the cowslip meadow in the back garden in full flower and common spotted orchid leaves showing in all the grassy areas of the garden. It certainly looks like the garden will be very colourful in the early summer here!