April is the month that the woodlands’ plants have been waiting for all through the winter. Bluebell leaves are emerging along with ramson leaves; and violets, primroses, dog’s mercury, wood anemone and celandine are all in flower. All these plants make use of the lack of light competition at this time of year before the tree leaves start to grow. 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 19th 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 the latter week of March.
The first of the summer migrants have finally arrived; sand martins were recorded for the first time on 10th March, with swallows on the 28th. There were many reports throughout Devon regarding swallow sightings the day before as they arrived on our shores. Chiffchaffs were first heard singing on 8th 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 (first recorded on 26th March), 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 first heard on 23rd March. 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 usually worth watching on Stover Lake – they fluff up their ruffs, shake their heads and present each other with water-weed staying beak to beak. Unfortunately, there have been no great-crested grebe sightings throughout March, and unless a pair arrive shortly this summer will be without a grebe family. The three swan cygnets finally left the lake by 23rd March after weeks of being chased by their parents. The adults are busy building a nest for this year’s eggs. A maximum of 3 mandarin ducks were recorded last month which is a decrease on previous years. Goosanders were recorded daily until 16th March when all left the lake. Water rail were seen throughout last month and will soon be leaving Stover to breed. Canada geese were sighted from 12th March onwards.
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 virtually non-existent again this winter with none sighted last month. They are in decline throughout Europe. Four shovelor were seen on 1st March with 2 on the 18th. Four snipe were recorded in the marsh on 4th March. There haven’t been any sightings of the red-eared terrapin so far this Spring.
During March brimstone butterflies have been out during the warmer days since the 10th. Keep an eye out for peacock’s, red admiral’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. Look out for orange-tips which usually 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. 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 are late this year as none have been sighted so far and they usually appear 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 Friends of Stover are holding an Easter Egg Trail on 6th and 7th April to raise funds for the Restoring Stover Park project. Tickets for the 6th sold out very quickly and there are only a few spaces available for the 7th – please email email@example.com This will be the first event to be held in the Park since the lockdown and will follow Covid guidance. Something similar is being planned for the Whitsun half-term for those that cannot make the Easter events.
The Age UK Stover Outdoor Activity Club resumed on site on Monday 29th March after several months of Zoom sessions, and members enjoyed a Spring guided walk. Please contact Age UK Devon on 0333 241 2340 or firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.