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PMcS 2006






This month look out for:

Returning summer visitors (birds) and seabirds nesting
Song birds singing
Woodland flowers
Trees and hedgerows in leaf
Butterflies emerging
Early meadow flowers including orchids

April is a fabulous month for wildlife, as the trees and shrubs burst into leaf with fresh, vibrant green foliage.  The fragile leaves are vulnerable to insect attack, but this early growth is still beautiful perfection.  Bird song grows in volume and diversity in April, although it is not until May that all our breeding species arrive back to complete the ensemble.  However early morning sleep can be disturbed by a strident blackbird or song thrush.  In the countryside on sunny days the chiff-chaff and blackcap will already have been singing for a week or two.

marsh marigold and bluebells


In the woodland, the floor can be a mass of white wood anemone, ramsons flowers, and slightly later a blue carpet packed with bluebells.  It is possible to catch their heady scent even before you are under the filling treetop canopy.  The woodland flowers need to be pollinated and catch the available light to grow before the darkness envelops them.  This is why they grow so early and then slowly die back in summer.

In the meadows the cuckoo flower, green winged orchid, cowslip and adders tongue emerge.


cuckoo flower


On a few selected flood plain sites, in late April, the huge drifts of the delicate snake's head fritillary provide a breath taking spectacle.


snake's head fritillary


The downlands are also starting to display a few specialities such as the pasque flower.  Along with meadows, the unimproved chalk and limestone grassland support the more common, but nevertheless attractive yellow heads of the cowslip with their honey scent.

The overwintering bird visitors such as redwings and fieldfares leave in April, as do visiting swans, geese and waders.  The summer visiting birds that arrive to replace them include house martins and many warblers such a whitethroats, marsh, sedge and willow warblers.  The three birds that also return, and perhaps most signify summer, are the swallow, the nightingale and the one so eagerly awaited by The Times readers - the cuckoo.  During this period of migration, certain departure\arrival points on the coast become bird watcher's Meccas as they provide quite a spectacle.

Some resident bird species may also have their first bird broods such as blue tits and blackbirds.

In the ponds the frog spawn and toad eggs can be found in large quantities.  These species have becoming more and more dependant on gardens, as their previous strongholds of farmland ponds have largely disappeared.


early purple orchid found in woodlands


green-winged orchid found in grassland


Habitats and species
Parks and gardens: As the garden comes alive once more as the soil warms up and insects such as bees, tortoise shell butterflies and peacocks flit between the flower.  They may be found basking in the sun to absorb its warmth.  The dawn chorus is in full swing, with the occasional singing of birds during the rest of the day such as greenfinch, woodpigeon and collared doves from the roof tops.  To help workout which bird is singing go to the bird song page for further hints.
Woodlands (including wood pasture): see introduction above.  On sunny days you may see the pale yellow brimstone butterfly in the woodland glades or alighting on a primrose to feed on nectar.  It is one of the earliest butterflies to emerge having spent the winter in the adult stage.  The caterpillars only feed on buckthorn and alder buckthorn.

In some old woodlands clumps of native wild daffodil still survive.  Do not be fooled by planted garden varieties.  Their wild ancestors are all yellow with smallish flowers.  The central trumpet is quite cylindrical.


wild daffodil

Arable and hedgerows: One of the hardy flowers that is first to bloom and can be seen all year round is the red dead-nettle.  Also the common annual sheppard's purse quickly flowers and sets seed.

sheppard's purse and red dead nettle

Road vergesLords and Ladies show their unusual and distinctive 'flower' in April and May.  The central column attracts flies which enter the flower and pick up pollen to take to another plant.  Cleavers also grows quickly and will soon be winding its stems up through the other vegetation.  Dandelion flowers are amongst the first to appear in the hedgerows, and this otherwise common plant can show off its complex yellow flowers without fear of being outshone by other more glamorous species.
Chalk and limestone grasslands: The cowslips are amongst the first of the flowering plants found on downland and limestone.  Their yellow drooping bell flowers can cover hillsides and if you get up close to the flowers you may be able to pick up a delicate honey-like scent.



Along with cowslips and hairy violet, on a few sites, the rare pasque flower and spring gentian can also be found in April and are well worth a special trip to see.

Meadows (neutral) and flood plain grasslands:  The unusual and rather small adders tongue fern can be found in old meadows but is very hard to spot.

adder's tongue fern

Acidic grasslands:
Heathlands:  On heathlands the gorse is in full yellow bloom and provides a very important food source for insects.
Mountain and Moorlands (uplands):
Rivers and ponds (including bogs and mires):
Sea and the sea shore (including estuaries):
Mammals: Badger activity is high by now.  Sets will have been spring cleaned and adults make foraging sorties each night.  The young are born from mid-January to mid-March and remain in the breeding chamber of eight weeks.  Therefore the early young will already be appearing above ground in April.  Weaning may even be complete for these individuals by the end of this month.  As badgers are nocturnal sightings are rare.
Birds: Many summer migrants arrive as over wintering species depart.  Birds on migration but which do not normally reside in Britain appear at this time by accident.  These vagrants and passage migrants are keenly sought after by bird watchers.

The dawn chorus is in full swing but only in May do all the singing bird species arrive.

On lakes the winter visitors are leaving and this spectacle is being replaced by breeding birds such as great crested grebes performing their elegant and energetic mating "weed dance".


Grebes with their mating dance



Amphibians & Reptiles: Frog's spawn has become tadpoles by April.  The adults now leave the ponds to live on land until Autumn.  They feed on slugs, snails and insects and therefore should be valued by gardeners.

Adders and slowworms come out of hibernation, along with other reptiles.  They need to bask for extended periods in order to get their body temperature up the level where they can function fully, as they are cold blooded.

Insects: Late in April the large black swarming St Mark's fly makes an appearance.  It is a welcome food source for newly arrived migrant birds as well as residents.  It is very noticeable as its longish black legs lazily trail below as it flies around.

Speckled wood butterfly


Peacock, orange tip and speckled wood butterflies appear in April.  In the south the yellow brimstone butterflies will already have been on the wing for several weeks, having over wintered amongst ivy as adults.  Some species of damsel flies can also be spotted on warm days near open water.

Plants: Ash trees come into flower in April, but its leaves are one of the last to emerge (May).  The male parts consist of a bundle purple pollen filled clusters and the females parts are dangle in the air to pick up wind borne pollen.

All images and text are copyright PMcS 2006