April is the month that the ground flora of woodlands has been waiting for all through the winter. Bluebell leaves are emerging along with ramson leaves; violets, primroses, dog’s mercury, wood anemone and celandine are in flower. All these flowering species make use of the lack of light competition at this time of year. As the woodland trees start to come into leaf, many spring flowering plants are coming towards the end of their life cycle for this season.
Marsh marigold is flowering in the marsh. Keep an eye out also for ladies smock (also known as cuckoo flower) which flowers in the damp grassy areas and in the marsh. Coltsfoot started flowering on 11th March, joining the laurel blossom around the lake and blackthorn blossom in the car park. Hawthorn is the first common tree species to come into full leaf; look at the roadside plantings as these usually are the first. Apart from hawthorn, the elder leaves are just starting to grow and many of the willow and hazel buds have burst. Spring has arrived early this year due to the unseasonably warm weather during March.
The first of the summer migrants have finally arrived; sand martins were recorded for the first time on 19th March. There haven’t been any sightings of swallows as yet. Chiffchaffs were first heard singing on 1st March with willow warblers due to follow shortly. Willow warblers and chiffchaffs look very similar; the easiest way of differentiation is song. The chiffchaff has an easily recognisable song – a monotonous chiff-chaff, chiff-chaff. The bulk of the summer migrants arrive in April so keep an eye out for blackcaps, sedge warblers and whitethroats. Stover’s birdsong is now noticeably louder and will reach a crescendo by the end of the month. The songs are used to defend territories and attract mates. The great-spotted woodpeckers are carrying on with their own version – drumming on hollow trees to announce their territories. Long-tailed tits are now busily building their nests in the gorse.
On the lake our coots and moorhens are also nest-building and the mallards are sitting on eggs. Great-crested grebe courtship is worth watching – they fluff up their ruffs, shake their heads and present each other with water-weed staying beak to beak. After only one sighting of a single grebe in February, it was seen again on 7th March and was joined by another on the 25th when the displaying commenced. A little grebe, also known as a dabchick, was spotted on 19th March. Seven male mandarins and two females were recorded by the end of last month. One female goosander remained on the lake up until 8th March in comparison to this time last year when there was up to 22 goosanders daily on the lake. Water rail were seen on 6th and 7th March and will soon be leaving Stover to breed.
The cormorant, black-headed gull, tufted duck and pochard numbers have now dropped as summer approaches, leaving just the herring and lesser black-backed gulls, with the heron and kingfisher visiting frequently. Pochard numbers have been non-existent this winter with none being sighted since Christmas and only a maximum of 2 in previous months. They are in decline throughout Europe. 115 snipe were recorded in the marsh on 23th March. The red-eared terrapin was seen for the first time this year on 20th March.
During March brimstone butterflies have been out during the warmer days, along with red admirals which were seen for the first time this year on 20th March. Keep an eye out for peacock’s and small tortoishell’s which are usually on the wing also in March. These March butterflies are the ones which have hibernated during the winter as adults; peacock and small tortoishell over-winter in hollow trees and ivy thickets. Look out for silky drapes over the tips of young stinging nettles once they grow taller – within them are the first batches of small tortoishell and peacock caterpillars. Orange-tips emerged early this year and were first spotted on 26th March. Usually they emerge in April, the males before the females. They over-winter as a chrysalis and time their annual flight to coincide with the opening of the flowers of the caterpillar’s food plants. These include the pale purple-pink flowers of lady’s smock and garlic mustard. The females lay only one minute orange egg per plant, because the caterpillars become cannibals if they have to compete for food.
The wood ants should now be active – they have spent the winter hibernating underground beneath their nests which have slowly rotted down over the winter. Keep an eye out for them starting to rebuild their large nests out of conifer needles. First the ants all congregate on top of the nest remains in a seething mass using the sun’s heat to warm up their bodies. They then go back to the middle of the nest transporting this heat to its core.
The first of the damselflies will be on the wing in April. Watch out for the large red damselflies around the lake and ditches as they are usually the first to appear – the first was recorded on 1st April. St Mark’s flies emerge around St Mark’s Day on 25th April and generally swarm round the hawthorn trees.
Fox and badger cubs will start to play above ground this month. Roe deer bucks will shortly be shedding the velvet coat from their antlers. They do this by rubbing against bushes and small trees. Usually at this time of year bats, lizards, adders and grass-snakes should shortly be coming out of hibernation. The first tadpoles were recorded a little late this year on 1st April (it’s usually around 15th March). There should be more frogs and toads spawning this month making easy meals for the grass-snakes once they emerge. Keep an eye out for the snakes swimming across the lake or ponds. The newt breeding season is now underway.
Sustainable charcoal, made from timber felled within the park is available for sale in the Visitor Centre should anyone be planning a Spring BBQ ! The prices are very competitive; all monies will be ploughed back into projects conserving the biodiversity of the Park.
The reeds have now been planted in the ponds for the reedbed system, and the surrounding area is being landscaped with the top soil containing the wildflower seeds spread around.
Last months volunteers’ day was spent clearing rhododendron from the heath. Join us for the next Volunteer’s Day on 28th April which will be the last one until September.