Although it is still early in the season, here in the south west, there is a distinct feeling of spring in the air, the landscape is starting to stir.
As the average temperature begins to rise frog spawn can be seen populating our ponds as frogs wake from hibernation, heading straight to their chosen breeding sites. In the woodlands, the ground flora is beginning to emerge. Snowdrops are in full bloom and the young shoots of Dog’s mercury, Lords and ladies, wild garlic, bluebells and even early purple orchids have all been spotted here in Somerset. The shrub layer is also coming alive after its winter dormancy. Many of these plants are wind pollinated and need to make an early start before the canopy trees come into leaf and block any whispers of wind from the woodland interior. Hazel’s golden catkins have begun to open, releasing their yellow pollen into the air, to be caught by the almost alien looking red stigmas.
Many song birds have become more active in the last few weeks. Blue tits, great tits, chaffinches, song thrush and blackbirds have all begun to sing, sometimes only giving short bursts of their full song as they warm up for the main event over the coming months. Song thrush are easy to distinguish as they always repeat each note of their large repertoire, singing from the tops of trees. Dunnock, also known as the hedge sparrow, are very active at the moment, tending to sing more actively early in spring. Dunnocks can often be seen singing from the tops of hedges, producing a complex but repeated song with a rapid delivery.
Although many bird species are starting to think about the breeding season, this early spring period can be one of the hardest for birds. With all of last season’s berries and seeds gone from the hedges and fields and little new growth from this year, food is very scarce. Caution should be given to disturbing feeding birds, especially large flocks of birds such as fieldfares and redwings as they can take a while to settle again. Due to a bird’s need to stay light for flight they cannot put down many fat reserves that would make them vulnerable to predators. They therefore need to eat enough each day to survive the night but not too much as to weigh them down. With the countryside’s larder empty, birds not left to feed in peace may not survive the night.
We at FWAG SouthWest are running a number of events this spring focusing on spring song birds, including dawn chorus walks and the opportunity to join a training day, on breeding bird surveys. The breeding bird training day will equip you with the skills and knowledge to identify common bird species by sight and song and use the data you’ve collected to map the breeding territories on your farm. This is a fantastic skill to learn and allows you to undertake very focused and informed management decisions to encourage song birds on your land. Spaces will be limited so please book as soon as possible. Further information can be found on our events page for all our events across the South West.