The unseasonably warm weather of the past few days has brought spring to a sudden start, although with cold winds and lower temperatures forecast for the next week we may yet be in for a shock. With the thermometer regularly hitting 20 degrees recently, it has been boom time for insects and for butterflies in particular. On one day last week in Bures it was possible to see five species on the wing simultaneously – peacock, red admiral, brimstone, comma and orange tip – a highly unusual sight in March! All but the last-named will have overwintered, often tucked away in ivy or garden sheds. The orange tips however will have spent the colder months pupating, emerging as immaculate adults once the weather warms up. Finding nectar at this time of year is not so easy, though, and many such early emergents risk starvation.
It’s tempting with warm weather in spring to think that this will mean a huge and early influx of migratory birds, but that has not happened this year. Certainly chiffchaffs can be heard singing their distinctive and repetitive “chiff-chaff-chiff-chaff” song from woods and gardens, and the first swallows and sand martins have been spotted, but it will be another two weeks or more before the majority of our summer visitors arrive from Africa. Sandstorms over the Sahara may be holding them up en route. One of our most beautiful migratory raptors, the osprey, has already been passing through the area however. One was seen over Sudbury last week and they are worth looking out for near rivers and lakes, as they will often stop off for a spot of fishing on their way to their breeding grounds further north.
Mammals are increasingly active, with hedgehogs emerging from hibernation and bats easy to spot on milder evenings – look out for Daubenton’s bats as they swoop low over rivers and ponds, picking off insects. Now is also peak time for hare activity, with the famous “boxing” taking place if you’re lucky and patient. This is not, as previously believed, two males squaring up to each other, but instead is usually a female who is not yet ready to mate attempting to fob off an admirer!