The powers that be in the world of weather forecasting say April should bring a break to the cold weather blowing in from Siberia, although for some this may be towards the end of the month. I am sure many insects and hibernating animals will be hoping this too. What can you see this month? Hopefully a great deal more!
Trees/shrubs… In April hawthorn should take over from blackthorn in adorning the hedgerows with blossom. Wild cherry trees should also be flowering this month. The new leaf burst is coming for many species such as ash, naturalised horse chestnut and elder.
Plants… Bluebells were already out last year in many places in the UK. But this year has been harsher and colder with some reports saying the timing of flowering has been set back a month for many species. The magnificent blue carpets we were starting to see last year will hopefully be out soon. Along with this we should perhaps see the strange yellow-green spathes of lords and ladies. The purple splotched dark green leaves of early purple orchid are one to watch for, so too wood sorrel, garlic mustard, cuckooflower, wood anemone and ramsons.
Fungi/lichens/moss… St George’s Day mushrooms are a taste of spring; these edible fungi can be found in woods and grassland and can form ‘fairy rings’. It is important if picking any fungi to respect that this is the essential fruiting body of the species. Without these the species would not continue into the future. Never take too many, leave the younger ones, allow the fruiting bodies to drop their life bearing spores and ensure the survival of these important nutrient recyclers.
Birds… Migrating birds should be returning to our shores this month and pleasing many watchers with their colour and song, including the nightingale and cuckoo. Over-wintering species will be leaving for their breeding grounds overseas. Some native species, such as blackbirds and blue tits, should start busily nesting in April.
Mammals… Badgers may become more visible this month. The young of this keystone woodland species are born from mid-January to mid-March, so April is a time when some of them could be venturing from the safety of the sett. However, as these are nocturnal animals you may have to locate specialist wildlife sanctuaries where experts can take you out on night-time adventures to see them.
Reptiles… Adders, grass snakes, slow worms and sand lizards come out of brumation (their version of hibernation) if temperatures have warmed enough. Look out for them basking in woodland glades and rides, the best time to spot them is early in the morning before they have warmed and speeded up.
Insects… The persistently cold weather has hampered even the earliest insects. Those butterflies that should be out on the wing now have been absent or struggling, a recent article says 2012 was a devastatingly wet year for them and numbers dropped significantly. If this year is as bad then many species could be in real trouble. St Mark’s fly should be a welcome food source for many migrant birds this month, emerging towards the end of April.
VisitWoods can help locate many stunning woods in your area and across the UK. You can also record all your amazing finds on Nature’s Calendar and be part of a great citizen science movement. Let us hope April brings some warmer weather for us and our wild friends.
Kay Haw, Assistant Conservation Adviser