We are currently living in unique circumstances and uncharted waters. The spread of the Coronavirus and the subsequent restrictions we now find ourselves under has meant that most of us have had to radically change the way we lead our lives. Only being allowed to leave home to purchase essential supplies, collect medication and get our daily exercise has meant that we are no longer permitted to drive to our regular wildlife haunts.
With the butterfly season just beginning to take off, queen bumblebees feeding frantically whilst searching for suitable nest sites and birds gathering up suitable nesting materials prior to laying their first clutch of eggs, it would be easy to feel that we were missing out on this spring spectacular. One thing that the first week of confinement has taught me is that all of the above are actually taking place in our gardens. I guess in previous years I must have been so preoccupied in getting out and about that I paid little attention as to what was going on in our own little ‘nature reserve’ at home.
Fortunately the last seven days has given us a glorious spell of sunshine and gentle winds. Perfect conditions for our garden wildlife to set about preparing for the season ahead. Of the five butterfly species that overwinter in the UK as adults, I recorded four in three days. A solitary Comma was the first to put in an appearance; warmed up by the rays of the sun it was almost hyperactive only pausing briefly to feed. The following day produced my first sighting of the year of a Brimstone. A pristine male specimen that spent most of the morning venturing in and out of the garden. Where he went after that, I do not know as I have not seen him since. Day three brought a couple each of Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies, all of which spending most of the day trying to re-enact the Battle of Britain. Dog fights over our, and neighbouring gardens, persisted for most of the day. A repeat performance was given on days four and five.
With plenty of celandines, lungworts and primroses to provide nectar, as well as a couple of flowering cherry trees and a Pieris, there was an ample food source for foraging Bumblebee queens. Buff-tailed, White-tailed, Red-tailed and Tree Bumblebees were on the wing throughout the week. It was fascinating to watch a Buff-tailed Bumblebee hovering to and fro in the borders looking for a potential nest site. She disappeared into the base of a Lavender hedge and did not come out, so maybe a suitable home was found. A rather large Tree Bumblebee spent time basking in the late afternoon sunshine on the boundary wall before crawling into a large patch of Ivy, presumably to spend the night.
We have several nest boxes around the house and garden, and it would appear that this year we have two pairs of Blue Tits occupying a couple of them; one in the front garden and one in the back. Each pair clearly has its own territory. We took advantage of the spring sunshine to eat alfresco each day, and it was interesting watch the birds picking their moments to visit the feeders when they thought that we were not looking. We were treated to an impromptu aria given by a male Chaffinch from the top of a Silver Birch tree, although I suspect that a female in the neighbouring garden was the intended recipient. The highlight of the week, however, was a visit from a Coal Tit that perched in a Maple tree just feet from where sat, totally oblivious to our presence. We suspect that he/she may be interested in adopting a nest box that is partly covered in Ivy on the garden wall. That would certainly be a first for us if that was the case. Whilst on one of my local walks I heard my first Chiffchaff of the year. Always a welcome sound as that usually means spring has well and truly arrived.
We have no idea how long this period of self isolation and social restriction will go on for, but whilst it does then our gardens will be our refuge. Please take advantage of this opportunity to have a look at what is happening in your garden. I can assure you that no two days will be the same. Record what you see and submit the data. You’ll be taking part in real Backyard science. Butterfly Conservation have the online Garden Butterfly Survey to record your garden butterfly sightings and for everything else there is NatureSpot, an invaluable resource for all things flora and fauna in Leicestershire and Rutland. Please follow the links below.
Stay safe in these difficult times and enjoy your gardens.
Richard M. Jeffery – VC55 Butterfly Recorder